Stay home for the holidays There’s a rainbow on the way, PAGE 07
DECEMBER 25, 2020 • VOLUME 04 • ISSUE 52 • AMERICA’S LGBTQ NEWS SOURCE • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Gascon changes his mind on new hate crimes directive Community pressure leads to reversal By KAREN OCAMB
Community groups and even some of his own prosecutors felt blindsided when, in his ﬁrst week in oﬃce, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon announced that his sweeping plan for criminal justice reform included a blanket end to sentencing enhancements — including for hate crimes. A polite uproar ensued with supporters, bar associations and community groups sending Gascon letters of protest. “Since hate violence has a unique serious impact on the community, it is entirely appropriate to acknowledge that this form of criminal conduct merits more substantial punishment,” wrote ADL Los Angeles Regional Director Jeﬀrey I. Abrams, noting that hate crimes target the community as well as the individual. “By making
victims and in speciﬁed extraordinary circumstances. These exceptions shall be narrowly construed.” Joseph Iniquez, Gascon’s openly gay 35-year old Interim Chief Deputy DA, clariﬁed to Los Angeles Magazine that the amendment allows prosecutors to ﬁle enhancements for “hate crimes, speciﬁc crimes against children, crimes against elders, and human sex traﬃcking,” and other limited provisions, such as some weapons enhancements and some great bodily injury enhancements. “But the overwhelming majority of enhancements will not be pursued by our oﬃce because it is still our policy that those really drive mass incarceration. And so, the ones that he’s carved out are speciﬁcally intended to protect really vulnerable communities. And then there are exceptions,
Screenshot of KCBS LA News coverage on incoming Los Angeles County District Attorney GEORGE GASCON
members of targeted communities fearful, angry and suspicious of other groups – and of the power structure that is supposed to protect them – these incidents can damage the fabric of our society and fragment communities.” The directive immediately impacted two cases involving violate attacks against transgender women. Out gay Deputy DA Richard Ceballos was forced to ask the judge to dismiss the hate crime charges in the August 17 assault on Instagram inﬂuencer Eden the Doll and two friends in Hollywood and in the case against four alleged MS-13 gang members accused of brutally stabbing TransLatin@ Coalition volunteer Daniela Hernandez 16 times on October 4 on Wilshire Blvd at MacArthur Park. That judge kept the hate crimes enhancements after hearing an impassioned plea from Hernandez. Gascon held several community meetings to address the criticism, the last on Dec. 17 with LGBTQ advocates and supporters. The next day he amended his directive, saying he would “allow enhanced sentences in cases involving the most vulnerable
but the exceptions are subject to head deputy and DA approval. So, there’s two layers of approval that has to take place before” enhancements can be charged. “What we probably should have calibrated better is sort of how deeply [the new directive] would be felt by our supporters, by our allies, our [prosecutors]. And it wasn’t that we didn’t think about the community — but we were trying to approach it from a place of ‘let’s just not use this tool because for the most part, the way it’s used is disproportionate against people of color,’” Iniquez said. “I think George’s initial position was ‘let’s just get rid of enhancement.’ But now we’ve adjusted it because we’ve listened. We’ve listened to not only the deputy DA’s, but community members. We’ve only been in oﬃce for a week or two weeks. So actually, the way I see it is as part of good leadership. He wasn’t going to like double down and say, ‘No.’ He’s listened and then adjusted.” The question remains: is listening and adjusting enough or has Gascon blown his incoming DA honeymoon and beyond?
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • DECEMBER 25, 2020 • 03
The UCLA Fielding School of Public Health (Photo Credit: UCLA)
UCLA opens center for LGBTQ advocacy, research, health The UCLA Fielding School of Public Health launched a new center to promote the health of sexual and gender minorities through research and partnerships with the LGBTQ community, community-based organizations, public health oﬃcials and policymakers in Los Angeles and beyond. The Fielding School of Public Health’s announcement this past week noted that the new center, the UCLA Center for LGBTQ Advocacy, Research & Health, or C-LARAH’s plans include establishing a postdoctoral fellowship program and certiﬁcate program in LGBTQ health and awarding pilot funding to researchers so that they can generate initial data that can then be used in applications for larger government grants. “Both here at home and around the world, LGBTQ populations have a higher prevalence and incidence of life-threatening physical conditions, mental health challenges, and certain chronic and infectious diseases, along with signiﬁcant barriers in accessing and maintaining healthcare and treatment,” said the center’s director, Dr. Matthew Mimiaga. Dr. Mimiaga is a tenured professor of epidemiology at UCLA and is widely known for his work with sexual and gender minorities. “C-LARAH and its partners will collaborate on research-informed ways to both reach members of this historically marginalized population and serve them holistically.” Mimiaga, who was recently recruited to the Fielding School from Brown University, has worked for years with LGBTQ populations at the intersection of HIV, substance use and mental health and conducts research projects that span countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. Dr. Mimiaga also has close ties to leading LGBTQ organizations in Los Angeles and nationwide, and with Los Angeles being home of one of the world’s largest LGBTQ populations, Mimiaga indicated that C-LARAH is particularly well situated to join forces with a slew of highly regarded local organizations that serve and advocate for the sexual and
gender minorities. One of those, The Trevor Project, a nonproﬁt which provides suicide prevention and crisis intervention services for LGBTQ youth, welcomes the advocacy resources and interdisciplinary health research expertise C-LARAH will bring to LGBTQ communities — both locally and beyond. “I’m excited for the UCLA Center for LGBTQ Advocacy, Research & Health to open its doors and help shape policies that directly impact the lives of LGBTQ young people,” said Trevor’s CEO and executive director Amit Paley. “Limited LGBTQ-inclusive research, plus the lack of systematic data collection on LGBTQ communities, can make it even more diﬃcult to address the unique mental health challenges of LGBTQ youth and the obstacles to care that they face.
“The Trevor Project recognizes a clear need for greater investment in advocacy and research that can better inform public policies that support the needs of LGBTQ youth. We look forward to working with the center to educate policymakers, advocate for LGBTQ youth, and provide unique insight into their mental health.” STAFF REPORTS
SANTA CLARITA’S NEWEST
VERDUGO HILLS’ NEWEST
SKINCARE EXPERT IS NOW AVAILABLE! IS NOW AVAILABLE!
Dr. Lydia Carpenter is now seeing patients at Skin & Beauty
Dr. Charles Vainder joinstheSkin Beauty to Center Santa Clarita, providing Santa&Clarita area Center with provide the Glendale communities withdermatology. cutting-edge cutting-edge cosmetic, medical, and surgical medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatologic care. Dr. Carpenter specializes in extended allergy panel patch You’ll love Dr. Vainder’s patient-centered and testing, procedural, and cosmetic dermatology. collaborative approach to your health. “Has allnot thehave attributes want your doctor.” “Could been you’d happier withinthe entire -experience.” John B., Valley Glen, CA David B., Canyon Country, CA Dermatologist specializing in: General Dermatology • Cosmetic • Surgical
Now taking in-person and telehealth appointments. Book yours at
1818 Verdugo Blvd., Suite 304 • Glendale, CA 91208
04 • DECEMBER 25, 2020 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
/vainder Now takingDermLA.com appointments. (818) 790-3588 Book yours at
Beloved Silver Lake queer bar’s crowd fundraiser miracle pandemic, Eater LA magazine reported. Many small businesses, especially in the He and co-owner Scott Craig quietly set service hospitality sector, have suﬀered up the page and hoped to begin raising as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic due funds on Wednesday, Dec. 16, with a push to lack of relief for rent and mortgage on social media. Both patiently waited for payments. The state of California’s health the designated start date, not realizing oﬃcials have also repeatedly opened the fundraiser web page remained public. and closed restaurants and bars in Within a day, more than $150,000 was response to the number of new cases raised in support of keeping this LGBTQ+ or hospitalizations, making it diﬃcult for bar in business. Alexander said. “We’re as small businesses to stay alive. high as kites over here…We’re so humbled Some businesses have had to shut and awed by the response,” according to their doors forever while others still Eater LA. The tally as of Friday, Dec. 18 have headed onto social media to crowd was $187,750 raised of a $250,000 goal. fundraise money to stay open. For the It wasn’t just Alexander and Craig’s Silver Lake neighborhood’s queer bar, GoFundMe that raised awareness to Akbar, it has been an ongoing struggle the beloved bar’s plight, as social media to keep up with the monthly mortgage inﬂuencers jumped into the eﬀort trying payments. to save the business. “Los Angeles County mandated that we Tony Rodríguez from the popular shut our doors in March due to COVID-19, Akbar is located at 4356 W. Sunset Blvd. (Photo Credit via Akbar) Spanish Aquí Presents Podcast posted and since then there has been NO relief for monthly mortgage payments. We’re asking today for your support to keep videos and pictures on his Instagram story of eﬀorts that would help save Akbar. AKBAR from permanently closing,” Akbar’s owners, Peter Alexander and Scott The bar’s own Instagram page has posted some of the comments from the GoFundMe page, which are heartfelt and show what the bar means its patrons. Craig posted on the bar’s website. Then co-owner Peter Alexander also quietly posted a $150,000 fundraiser on According to Rodríguez’s and Akbar’s Instagram stories, 20% of the donations are popular crowdfunding site GoFundMe last week, hoping to save his 24-year- now going to the TransLatina@ Coalition. NOAH CHRISTIANSEN old Silver Lake bar from closing forever as a result of the ongoing coronavirus
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • DECEMBER 25, 2020 • 05
WeHo, LA gay bars struggle amid restriction mandates
Will the community have safe spaces when COVID ends? By RANCE COLLINS
The Abbey in November 2020 (Blade ﬁle photo by Noah Christiansen)
A year ago, turning right onto Santa Monica Boulevard from Robertson on Saturday night might’ve taken you a couple light cycles, as dozens of club-goers crossed the street hopping from Mickey’s to the Abbey. Twelve months later, those are two of the only bars left on the quartermile stretch of acceptance the LGBTQIA+ community has come to call their LA home. For decades, the shops and watering holes in West Hollywood have powered the city into becoming the nation’s most prominent gay enclave. Now, many of those businesses are shuttering, and there is doubt as to what might be left when the pandemic is over. Some locations have hung on, able to create openair spaces that follow the guidelines for LA County and California’s strict COVID-19 regulations. But with the recent surge in cases and mandatory business closures, there are doubts as to what might be left when the vaccinations ﬁnally hit a critical mass. Recently, Rage, Gym Bar, Gold Coast and Flaming Saddles all closed their doors permanently, unable to function in a world of restrictions. Some places weren’t equipped to move toward social distancing and outdoor dining, as the Abbey was, and others simply couldn’t make ends meet. Jacqui Squatrigila, who owned Flaming Saddles, had initially thought she had a deal struck with her landlord, Monte Overstreet, where her bar would be allowed to reopen when it was deemed safe. In August, when others were opening up for outdoor operations, Squatrigilia believed the virus was still too prevalent and dangerous. Overstreet then revoked the verbal agreement. “It’s devastating to go through a pandemic and think that you’re going to open and you have a deal in place, and then that deal is gone,” Squatrigila said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. Overstreet also owned the properties housing Gold Coast and Rage. Squatrigilia went on to say, “They could rent to anybody, it doesn’t have to be a gay bar — it could be whatever they want, which would change the fabric of the community. It was a very safe social community and I think that’s what we gave, too. Flaming Saddles was a safe space and I think that more than anything is important to the community there.” David Cooley, who owns the Abbey, argues that ﬁnding a way to keep the spaces open is vital as the tumultuous year comes to a close. “Keeping restaurants and LGBTQ+ safe spaces open is a mental health issue,” Cooley told The Hollywood Reporter. Cooley believes that the holiday season, a period where lonely people feel especially isolated, is the time the queer community most needs a safe place to escape. The latter half of December statistically has the highest suicide rate
06 • DECEMBER 25, 2020 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
annually. Across the county, Silverlake’s Akbar, one of the most well-known gay establishments outside of West Hollywood, has been unable to open its doors at all since the ﬁrst lockdown Owners Scott Craig and Peter Alexander noted on their webpage, “And now this new plague is threatening Akbar’s survival. Hundreds of Queer businesses are closing. How many of those Queer businesses will be reborn as Queer when the pandemic is over? Community matters, safe space matters.” LA’s LGBTQ bar owners and patrons are terriﬁed of what the future might hold for their favorite hangouts and how they will ﬁnd human connection in the interim. What is certain is that after enough shots get into arms and restrictions are a thing of a past, there will need to be places for the community to congregate again. Asked to comment on the current business crisis in the city, in an emailed statement Monday evening, West Hollywood’s Lindsey P. Horvath told the Blade: “Our LGBTQ community and our Rainbow District are at the heart of what makes West Hollywood unique and special. As communities throughout the world continue to respond to this unprecedented pandemic, the City of West Hollywood has been working around-the-clock to support the health and safety of people who live, work, and play in West Hollywood. Like many communities, the pandemic has had an enormous toll on our community and its businesses, including our bars, restaurants, and nightlife venues. In our case, this aﬀects our LGBTQ community’s noteworthy destinations. “I remain reassured by the resilience of our community. Our City government and our community members have emerged strong through previous health emergencies, such as the HIV and AIDS pandemic, and economic downturns, such as the 2008 recession. “Each time we’re faced with a challenge, West Hollywood rises to the occasion and our community ﬁnds resourceful, creative, and determined approaches to overcome adversity. The City is working to support community members, including residents and businesses, by creating resources where it can, and by connecting to resources where there are opportunities. We will continue to advocate at the County, State, and Federal levels for assistance and relief for individuals and businesses. “The City of West Hollywood has always been an aﬃrming place for the LGBTQ community and will continue to be a destination for LGBTQ people and allies. There is much hope on the horizon with a new Federal Administration and with a vaccine. We will get through this pandemic with determination and we will aim to come back with a renewed sense of purpose and revitalization.”
Stay-at-home order ‘very likely’ to be extended: Newsom
Grim warning urges residents not to have a medical emergency now By BRODY LEVESQUE
Speaking to reporters from his home where he is undergoing a 10-day quarantine due to possible exposure to the coronavirus, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that the three-week regional stay-at-home order set to expire on Dec. 28 is very likely to be extended. The order took eﬀect when the Southern California region’s ICU bed capacity slipped to under 15%. The region hit 0% ICU capacity last week, triggering local hospitals to prepare to ration care. The governor told reporters that as of Monday, the statewide capacity is at 2.5%. “It’s very likely based on those current trends that we will need to extend that stay-at-home order,” Newsom said. The message Friday from the chief medical oﬃcer at LAC + USC Medical Center, Dr. Brad Spellberg, was grim — don’t have a medical emergency, there are no beds available. During a press brieﬁng Spellberg spelled out the extent of the damage that the coronavirus surge has had on the healthcare system in Los Angeles County and Southern California. “I’m not going to sugarcoat this. We are getting crushed,” Spellberg said. “For most of the days of last week, we’ve had zero ICU beds open in the morning and we have had to scramble.” Creating more dire circumstances he told reporters there was now a critical shortage of healthcare workers. “L.A. County is now moving towards becoming the epicenter of the pandemic,” Spellberg said. Participating in the press brieﬁng in addition to the governor, California’s Health and Human Services secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly, told reporters that health oﬃcials will be looking at current ICU capacity, the average number of new cases, transmission rate and projections on capacity based on those factors. Ghaly nor Newsom were able to concisely articulate the potential length of the extension. There are 1,867,722 coronavirus cases in California with 22,676 deaths as of Monday, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health conﬁrmed 56 new deaths and 11,271 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. To date, Public Health identiﬁed 634,849 positive cases of COVID-19 across all areas of L.A. County and a total of 8,931 deaths. Since Nov. 9, average daily deaths have increased from 12 average deaths per day to 84 average deaths per day last week. Since the beginning of the surge in November, cases have increased by a staggering 862%. For the past three weeks, the County has nearly tripled the daily average number of cases; from 4,000 new cases a day to over 14,000 new cases a day. L.A. County continues to experience a surge in cases among healthcare workers. This past week, 2,191 healthcare workers tested positive for COVID-19. In the last three weeks there have been over 5,500 new cases among healthcare workers. In early November there were 40 new cases among healthcare workers per day; last week there were 313 new cases of COVID-19 among healthcare workers per day. California’s overwhelmed hospitals are setting up makeshift extra beds for coronavirus patients, and a handful of facilities in hard-hit Los Angeles County are drawing up emergency plans in case they have to limit how many people receive life-saving care, the Associated Press reported. The number of people hospitalized across California with conﬁrmed COVID-19 infections is more than double the state’s previous peak, reached in July, and a state model forecasts the total could hit 75,000 patients by mid-January. Plans for rationing care are not in place yet, but they need to be established because “the worst is yet to come,” said Los Angeles County’s health services director, Dr. Christina Ghaly. Most hospital centers across the Southern California region have ceased elective surgeries and are preparing wards to act as overﬂow for the onslaught of coronavirus patients. As California prepares to continue the stay-at-home orders which now are in eﬀect in 51 of the state’s 58 counties, health oﬃcials continue to implement vaccinations of the frontline healthcare workers.
Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center COVID-19 surge hospital ward (Photo Credit: Los Angeles County)
Last week, L.A. County received its ﬁrst shipment of the Pﬁzer vaccine. This shipment represented 82,873 doses that have been distributed to 83 acute care hospitals through the county. A second allotment of 48,750 Pﬁzer vaccines is anticipated to arrive this week and will continue to be used to vaccinate healthcare workers at acute care hospitals. Initial eﬀorts are aimed at vaccinating everyone in Phase 1A, Tier 1; these are the frontline healthcare workers and residents in long-term care facilities. Looking ahead, once done with vaccinating all groups in Tier 1, oﬃcials will move to Tier 2 and Tier 3. In Phase 1A, Tier 2, this group includes healthcare workers in immediate care facilities and home healthcare service, community health workers, public health ﬁeld staﬀ, and healthcare workers in primary care clinics, correctional facility clinics and urgent care clinics. In Phase 1A, Tier 3, this group includes healthcare workers in specialty clinics, laboratory workers, dental and other oral health clinics, and pharmacy staﬀ who are not within the higher-tier settings. Next to receive vaccinations are persons within Tier 1B are considered persons 75 years and older and frontline essential workers. These include ﬁreﬁghters, police oﬃcers and sheriﬀ’s deputies, teachers and school staﬀ, manufacturing workers, corrections workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, public transit and grocery store workers. Persons within Tier 1C are those who are 65 years or older and individuals 16 years and older with signiﬁcant underlying health conditions that could create a serious health risk. This also includes additional essential workers not included in Tier 1B. These are the Phases adopted by the CDC to assist prioritization while there is a limited supply of vaccines. “While we are so encouraged that vaccines have arrived and our frontline healthcare workers are beginning to receive vaccinations, it will take many months to immunize the entire population of L.A. County. Your actions this week and beyond will determine whether we get through the next two months without continuing to experience horrifying increases in hospitalizations and deaths,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Director of Public Health. “When you must go out for work, to exercise or for essential services, put on a face covering before you open the door and walk outside. Please always keep your mask on. Please avoid crowded spaces and stay at least six feet away from people you do not live with at all times. And keep using hand sanitizer and washing your hands.” LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • DECEMBER 25, 2020 • 07
Congress falls short of funding goals in HIV ﬁght Deal includes increase of $137 million for Trump plan to beat AIDS By CHRIS JOHNSON | email@example.com
allocated by Congress represents a 48.8 percent In the wake of extended deliberations, Congress increase, which he said “far outpaces the overall included in its deal to provide coronavirus relief and increase in non-defense discretionary spending.” fund the government for ﬁscal year 2021 an increase Taking a jab at the Trump administration, of $137 million for the Trump administration’s plan to Hollander said the $678 million sought by the Trump beat HIV/AIDS, but stopped short of the full request, administration sounds better than it is because it was much to the disappointment of advocates ﬁghting the “predicated on cuts to other labor, health and human epidemic. services, and education programs.” The $1.4 trillion deal, unveiled Monday after days No HIV money was included in the coronavirus of negotiations amid fears of a potential government relief portion of the package. That stands in contrast shutdown, notably includes $600 in stimulus checks to to the CARES Act, which included $155 million for Ryan U.S. adults and new money for small businesses under White programs as part of the earlier coronavirus the Paycheck Protection Program. In mere hours after package. the deal became public, Congress voted to approve Hollander said House Democrats included $100 the measure Monday evening. million in the Heroes Act, the $4 trillion COVID-19 The deal, however, also contains funds for the relief passed in October, but Republicans “insisted on Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative, which seeks to beat dramatic cuts to the emergency appropriations that the HIV epidemic by 2030. were included in that bill.” Announced by President Trump at the State of The Senate Appropriations Committee didn’t the Union address in 2019, the PrEP-centric initiative respond to a request to comment for this article. under the Department of Health & Human Services The White House referred the Blade to the Oﬃce of seeks to reduce new HIV infections by 75 percent in PRESIDENT TRUMP’s PrEP-centric initiative under the Department of Health & Human Services seeks to reduce new HIV infections by 75 percent Management & Budget, which didn’t respond to a 2025, then 90 percent in 2030. It remains to be seen if in 2025, then 90 percent in 2030. (Washington Blade by Michael Key) request to comment. HHS also didn’t respond to a President-elect Joe Biden will adopt this plan and the request to comment. infrastructure set up by the Trump administration to Jennifer Kates, director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, eliminate HIV (which Biden said he could do by 2025, outdoing Trump’s goal by ﬁve yeas) was more bleak in her assessment and openly wondered if the amount Congress or adopt another plan to go his own way. appropriated would be enough to complete the HIV initiative by its 2030 goals. The FY-21 deal appropriated $403 million for the initiative, increasing the FY-20 funding “The funding in the bill for the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative is below the president’s levels by $137 million. The $137 million increase breaks down as follows: request, and it’s unclear if this will be suﬃcient for reaching the initiative’s goals within the • $35 million for Centers for Disease Control’s HIV prevention eﬀorts; timeline, particularly since the timeline itself has already been threatened by COVID-19,” • $35 million for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program; Kates said. • $52 million for HRSA Community Health Centers to focus on PrEP to prevent HIV Meanwhile, Congress also agreed to reject the draconian cuts the Trump administration transmission; had sought for global AIDS programs as part of its FY-21 budget request. • $5 million for Indian Health Service for HIV and hepatitis; and The deal allocated $5.9 billion for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or • $10 million for National Institute for Health’s Centers for AIDS Research. PEPFAR, the same amount as FY-20 and $2.1 billion above Trump’s request. Congress also The ﬁnal package also includes important funding increases for other domestic HIV allocated $1.56 billion for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which is programs, including an increase of $20 million for HUD’s Housing Opportunities for People $903 million above Trump’s request. with AIDS, or HOPWA, $1.5 million for the Minority HIV/AIDS Fund and $1 million for the Jessica Bassett, a spokesperson for the New York-based grassroots group Health GAP, CDC’s School Health program. said via email to the Blade, however, the allocation for global programs is “another punt But the funding is a far cry from the $412 million increase sought by the Department of from Congress when what people with HIV need is urgent, decisive action.” Health & Human Services, making a total appropriation of $678 million in FY-21, to ramp “The U.S. was already underfunding its share of the global AIDS response via PEPFAR and up the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative in each designated high-incident jurisdiction with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria – and that was before COVID-19,” testing, linkage to care and PrEP activities. Bassett said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated weaknesses in the Carl Schmid, executive director of the HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute, said in a statement HIV response, triggering life-threatening disruptions to HIV treatment, prevention, and the funds Congress appropriated aren’t what the Trump administration, or advocates care for adults and children, and undermining years of progress in the ﬁght against HIV in against HIV/AIDS, were seeking, but he was hopeful they would be enough to keep the just a matter of months.” initiative going. Bassett concluded she wants to see big changes when the Biden administration begins “We thank the president for initially proposing and now the Congress for including on Jan. 20, when she said Congress “won’t be able to use Trump’s perennial slash-and-burn increased funding for the second year of the Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative,” Schmid budget proposals as cover for ﬂatlining global AIDS funding.” said. “While it is not as much as we anticipated, it is reassuring that both the House and “The Biden-Harris administration should work with Congress to deliver a bold global Senate, in a bipartisan fashion, support increases to our public health eﬀorts so that we HIV catch-up plan to save lives, particularly the lives of those who have suﬀered the most can continue the momentum already created and make further progress in ending HIV in during the pandemics: LGBTQ+ people, children, pregnant people, sex workers, people the U.S.” who use drugs, and incarcerated people,” Bassett said. “Scaling up the U.S. investment to The deal appropriated money for the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative somewhere in put the global AIDS response back on track must be a priority for the new administration, between the amount proposed by both chambers of Congress. Counterintuitively, House ﬁrst to mitigate the harms done by COVID-19, and then year after year to successfully Democrats under House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) approved just $65 million in expand access to quality HIV treatment and evidence-based prevention services to all who increases, while Senate appropriations had proposed $207 million. need them.” Evan Hollander, a House Appropriations Committee spokesperson, said the $403 million 08 • DECEMBER 25, 2020 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
White House says Grenell is ﬁrst out gay Cabinet member But Dems say Buttigieg will be ﬁrst to win Senate conﬁrmation By CHRIS JOHNSON | firstname.lastname@example.org
Amid an ongoing dispute over whether the distinction of being the ﬁrst openly LGBTQ Cabinet oﬃcial belongs to Pete Buttigieg or Richard Grenell, the White House said that President Trump believes the distinction belongs to Grenell, even though the Trump appointee didn’t seek or obtain Senate conﬁrmation for his Cabinet-level role. White House Deputy Press Secretary Brian Morgenstern, gaggling with reporters, said in response to a question from the Washington Blade Trump “does agree” with the designation of Grenell as acting director of national intelligence makes him the ﬁrst openly LGBTQ Cabinet oﬃcial. “Yes, the president does agree with that,” Morgenstern said. “He’s very proud of it. In fact he as a gift gave the ceremonial Cabinet room chair that Ambassador Grenell used during his time as acting ODNI to kind of signify how meaningful it was to him to break through that barrier.” The dispute emerged after President-elect Joe Biden announced Tuesday he selected Buttigieg, who made history as a gay presidential candidate in the 2020 election, as secretary of transportation. Sweeping under the rug the anti-LGBTQ record Trump has built over his administration, Morgenstern said Grenell’s appointment is a “good example of tolerance” and Trump believes “immutable traits” shouldn’t disqualify capable people from the roles for which they are qualiﬁed. The White House says former acting Director of National Intelligence RICHARD GRENELL is the ﬁrst “And so, yeah, the president’s very proud of that — of sort of breaking through that openly gay Cabinet oﬃcial, not former Mayor of South Bend, Ind. PETE BUTTIGIEG, whom Biden chose barrier for our country setting a good example of tolerance and that people who are as transportation secretary. (Photo of Grenell public domain; Blade photo of Buttigieg by Michael Key) best suited to have a position to get that position then no matter what their immutable traits may be,” Morgenstern said. of an ambassador there is a charge‘ d’aﬀaires who assumes the duties of ambassador. There Morgenstern concluded he would “leave it at that” before announcing to reporters in the is no ‘acting’ position per se. Secondly, in my case, I went through the process of conﬁrmation, gaggle he’d take just one more question. but the Senate was prevented from voting. The president then made a recess appointment, Despite Morgenstern’s claims the Trump administration believes qualiﬁed people should be and I went to my post fully accredited.” able to get a position “no matter what their immutable traits may be,” the White House under Grenell, who didn’t respond to a request for comment for this article, has largely stayed away Trump just months ago signaled it would keep in place the transgender military ban, citing from the fray on social media on who gets to be called the ﬁrst openly gay Cabinet member. unfounded claims of “military readiness and unit cohesion.” Biden made reversing that policy However, Grenell upon leaving his post as acting DNI this year posted on Instagram that a campaign pledge and is expected to undo the ban upon taking oﬃce. Trump gave him his chair from the Cabinet room and told him being the ﬁrst openly gay The honor of being the ﬁrst openly gay Cabinet oﬃcial has ignited a ﬁrestorm of controversy Cabinet oﬃcial was a “big deal.” on social media in the aftermath of Biden announcing Buttigieg’s appointment. Grenell also said during the election in a video that he was the “ﬁrst openly gay Cabinet Former U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg Jim Hormel, who became the ﬁrst openly gay member,” which he said demonstrates Trump is “the most pro-gay” president ever despite the U.S. ambassador in 1999 after President Bill Clinton gave him the job through a recess anti-LGBTQ record the administration has built. (The Log Cabin video, though widely seen, was appointment, downplayed Grenell last week and said the real achievement “as the ﬁrst openly also criticized for inaccuracies and taking facts and quotes out of context. LGBTQ member of the presidential Cabinet” goes to Buttigieg. During the Biden team’s announcement last week, Buttigieg was careful in his language “Pete Buttigieg will be nominated as secretary of transportation, subject to conﬁrmation by about the milestone he was setting out to achieve and said his nomination marked “the ﬁrst the Senate,” Hormel said. “Following his approval he will serve with full authority at the will of time an American president has ever sent an openly LGBTQ cabinet nominee to the Senate the president. He will be the ﬁrst oﬃcial openly LGBT member of the Cabinet. His appointment, for conﬁrmation.” if approved, will be a milestone.” But Buttigieg also recognized he was following in the footsteps of LGBTQ pioneers, explicitly Hormel, now 87 and responding to an inquiry from the Blade via email, said the basis for recognizing Hormel’s achievement. rejecting Grenell’s appointment as a ﬁrst for the LGBTQ community rests with the word “acting” “I can remember watching the news, 17 years old and seeing a story about an appointee in the Trump appointee’s title. of President Clinton, named to be an ambassador, attacked and ultimately denied a vote in “The president may appoint an individual to be temporary ‘acting’ head of an agency, bureau the Senate, because he was gay — ultimately able to serve only by a recess appointment,” or department,” Hormel said. “That appointee can serve in that capacity for a limited period of Buttigieg said. time without being conﬁrmed by the Senate. Trump has used ‘acting’ appointments time and Buttigieg, who made history as a gay Democratic candidate in the 2020 primary said at the again, thus avoiding Senate inquiries and investigations.” time his career aspiration was to become an airline pilot and “was a long way from coming out, Like Grenell, Hormel never won Senate conﬁrmation for his presidential appointment. even to myself,” but gained knowledge from Hormel’s story. Conservative senators, including the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and former Sen. John “I learned about some of the limits that exist in this country when it comes to who is allowed Ashcroft (R-Mo.), refused to allow the Senate to conﬁrm Hormel explicitly on the basis of his to belong, and just as important, I saw how those limits could be challenged,” Buttigieg said. being gay. Clinton had to short-circuit the process, using his presidential powers to grant “So, two decades later, I can’t help but think of a 17-year-old who might be watching right now, Hormel a recess appointment. someone who wonders whether and where they belong in the world, or even in their own But Hormel at least sought Senate approval for his role. Grenell neither sought nor obtained family, and I’m thinking about the message today’s announcement is sending to them.” conﬁrmation as acting director of national intelligence, although he had won conﬁrmation for Hormel, in the email to the Blade the day after Buttigieg praised him, was able to return the his concurrent role as U.S. ambassador to Germany. favor by oﬀering support. Even though Hormel and Grenell had similarities in not obtaining Senate conﬁrmation, “I enthusiastically support the nomination of Pete Buttigieg as secretary of transportation Hormel said his “situation diﬀered in two ways.” and will acknowledge him as the ﬁrst openly LGBTQ member of the presidential Cabinet,” “First, the hierarchy within the State Department is unique,” Hormel explained. “In the absence Hormel said. LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • DECEMBER 25, 2020 • 09
YARIEL VALDÉS GONZÁLEZ
MICHAEL K. LAVERS
is the Blade’s international news editor.
is a Blade contributor.
2021 is the year to dream big
Yariel proves immigrants really make America great It goes without saying that most of us are more than happy to see 2020 come to an end, but even this dumpster fire of a year could not extinguish the will to fight for a better life. The effort to secure Washington Blade contributor Yariel Valdés González’s release from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody is no better example of what is possible. Valdés and International News Editor Michael K. Lavers share their thoughts about the past year. By YARIEL VALDÉS GONZÁLEZ Today I am thinking of the first day of the year and what I asked Santa for Christmas. I was at an immigrant jail in Louisiana, imprisoned for seeking political asylum. Judge Timothy Cole on Sept. 18, 2019, granted me asylum, but a government appeal kept me behind bars, and diminished my hopes of being truly free at every turn. Resorting to Santa, a childish character in whom adults should not believe, shows how desperate I was. I simply wanted the freedom that I had earned and for which I had suffered so much in Cuba and, incredibly, in the United States. Santa three months later finally granted my wish. I guess immigrants are a low priority for such an honorable and busy character. My true Santa was really Michael K. Lavers, my brother, my colleague and this publication’s international news editor. It would have been impossible to emerge victorious in this battle without his constant support. I can now dream of a future without persecution because of my profession or ideas thanks to him, my family, and many other people. Instead, my Santa in 2020 came from the hand of love, which does not need desperate pleas, but tenderness and devotion. Receiving gifts on this date does not exactly fit into the traditions of my native country, whose Communist regime has crushed the Christmas spirit for decades. I can proudly look back on 2020 without forgetting from where I come. While the whole world tries to erase it from memory, it has been my “Year Zero” when I began to build my new life in every way. This year has put many challenges and new experiences in front of me: The first and most difficult one was to be released from ICE custody, which kept me in their jails for 11 months. Then came learning how to drive (it wasn’t that difficult); perfecting my rustic English (a task that has not yet been completed); working in a restaurant (I had never done anything outside of media before); be independent (I moved to Wilton Manors with my boyfriend); support the new president as an activist; collaborate with this newspaper that gives me the opportunity to support my community; 10 • DECEMBER 25, 2020 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
stay healthy in the middle of this pandemic and endure the sadness that I feel each day for the family and friends I left behind, among other things. The year that we begin today is going to be better. And I say this as an imposition because it is our positive spirit that will help us overcome all the bumps in the road and will allow us to look to the new year with hope. Welcoming 2021 in the magical place of Walt Disney World has definitely contributed to that, but above all I am confident that I will not be alone on this journey of growth that has opened up in front of me. Conquering 2021 may seem like an overly pretentious plan, especially for an immigrant who is just beginning to take his own steps in this great country. But if I have learned anything in life, it is to dream big, and 2021 will not be the exception. By MICHAEL K. LAVERS Tears were welling up in my eyes on Aug. 8, 2019, when I promised Yariel’s mother in Cuba during a phone call from his aunt and uncle’s home in suburban Miami that I would do everything in my power to secure her beloved son’s release from ICE custody. It took far too long for that day to come, but on March 4 he was sitting in the passenger seat of my rental car as we drove away from the privately run River Correctional Center in rural Louisiana. More than nine months later, I could choose to focus on the fact that Yariel spent nearly a year in the custody of an out-of-control agency that forces those who seek refuge in this country to endure abuse and dehumanization. I could choose to focus on politicians who use cheap rhetoric to advance a xenophobic agenda. I could choose to focus on the fact that I fractured my left arm hours before Yariel’s release and it took six months to heal. I will, however, avoid the chance to wallow in self-pity because that’s not what this op-ed is about. Yariel is proof that immigrants truly make America great. He is now living with his boyfriend in Wilton Manors, and has become an active and productive member of the community. Yariel’s reporting continues to highlight the human rights abuses in Cuba that forced him to flee. His advocacy on behalf of other immigrants and ICE detainees continues to inspire me more than he will ever know. This year has been horrible for so many reasons, but I am immensely thankful that Yariel in 2020 was finally able to begin living his best life in freedom without fear of persecution. He remains an inspiration to me and to countless others. ¡Te quiero mucho mi querido hermano!
V O L UM E 04 IS S U E 52 ADDRESS 5455 Wilshire Blvd, 21st Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90036 PHONE 310-230-5266 E-MAIL email@example.com INTERNET losangelesblade.com PUBLISHED BY Los Angeles Blade, LLC PUBLISHER TROY MASTERS firstname.lastname@example.org 310-230-5266 x8080 (o), 917-406-1619 (c) SALES & MARKETING SALES EXECUTIVE ROMAN NAVARRETTE email@example.com 310-435-3022 PALM SPRINGS ACCOUNT EXEC BRAD FUHR, 760-813-2020. firstname.lastname@example.org NATIONAL ADVERTISING RIVENDELL MEDIA email@example.com, 212-242-6863 MARKETING DIRECTOR STEPHEN RUTGERS firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-747-2077 x8077 EDITORIAL CONTRIBUTING WRITER KAREN OCAMB email@example.com NATIONAL EDITOR KEVIN NAFF firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-747-2077 x8088 INTERNATIONAL EDITOR MICHAEL K. LAVERS email@example.com EDITOR AT LARGE BRODY LEVESQUE California CONTRIBUTORS
ERNESTO VALLE, YARIEL VALDÉS GONZALEZ, PARKER PURIFOY, CHRISTOPHER KANE, AUSTIN MENDOZA, JOHN PAUL KING, JOEY DIGUGLIELMO, CHRIS JOHNSON, LOU CHIBBARO JR., MARIAH COOPER, REBEKAH SAGER, JON DAVIDSON, SUSAN HORNIK, CHANNING SARGENT, SAMSON AMORE, CHRISTOPHER CAPPIELLO, MICHAEL JORTNER, DAN ALLEN, SEAN SHEALY, SCOTT STIFFLER
CREATIVE DESIGN/PRODUCTION AZERCREATIVE.COM DISTRIBUTION CHRISTOPHER JACKSON, 562-826-6602
All material in the Los Angeles Blade is protected by federal copyright law and may not be reproduced without the written consent of the Los Angeles Blade. The sexual orientation of advertisers, photographers, writers and cartoonists published herein is neither inferred nor implied. The appearance of names or pictorial representation does not necessarily indicate the sexual orientation of that person or persons. Although the Los Angeles Blade is supported by many fine advertisers, we cannot accept responsibility for claims made by advertisers. Unsolicited editorial material is accepted by the Los Angeles Blade, but the paper cannot take responsibility for its return. The editors reserve the right to accept, reject or edit any submission. A single copy of the Los Angeles Blade is available from authorized distribution points, to any individual within a 50-mile radius of Los Angeles, CA. Multiple copies are available from the Los Angeles Blade office only. Call for rates. If you are unable to get to a convenient free distribution point, you may receive a 26-week mailed subscription for $195 per year or $5.00 per single issue. Checks or credit card orders can be sent to Phil Rockstroh at firstname.lastname@example.org. Postmaster: Send address changes to the Los Angeles Blade, PO BOX 53352 Washington, DC 20009. The Los Angeles Blade is published bi-weekly, on Friday, by Los Angeles Blade, LLC. Rates for businesses/institutions are $450 per year. Periodical postage paid at Los Angeles, CA., and additional mailing offices. Editorial positions of the Los Angeles Blade are expressed in editorials and in editors’ notes as determined by the paper’s editors. Other opinions are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the opinion of the Los Angeles Blade or its staff. To submit a letter or commentary: Letters should be fewer than 400 words; commentaries should be fewer than 750 words. Submissions may be edited for content and length, and must include a name, address and phone number for verification. Send submissions by e-mail to email@example.com.
©2020 LOS ANGELES BLADE, LLC.
is president of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C.
Pete Buttigieg as Cabinet secretary is more than a ‘ﬁrst’ The culmination of a terrible history played out over decades By CHARLES FRANCIS
It is so much more than another “ﬁrst,” Pete Buttigieg nominated as Transportation secretary, the ﬁrst openly gay person to be named to a Cabinet post requiring Senate conﬁrmation. Far better to think of his nomination as a culmination of a terrible history played out over decades at the very door of the Cabinet Room itself. LGBT Americans have been ruined and ﬁred there. Gay Americans have entered there with their darkest secret of homosexuality. We have met there many times as some of the most powerful staﬀ in the world, think of LBJ’s righthand, the troubled Walter Jenkins. We have gathered there as hopeful advocates and conﬁdants when “the boss” was elsewhere. Think of Special Assistant to the President Midge Costanza’s and Jean O’Leary’s ﬁrst-ever gay and lesbian policy meeting held in the Roosevelt Room at the Carter White House, or John Berry, who became the highest-ranking oﬃcial in gay history when President Obama named him director of the Oﬃce of Personnel Management. But it has never been like this, an openly gay Cabinet Secretary to be conﬁrmed by the United States Senate. Pete Buttigieg, doubtless, welcomes this “ﬁrst,” but it will not deﬁne him. We have all come too far for that. I will never forget interviewing one of the old-school Washington “power lobbyists,” my former boss Bob Gray (19212014), when he was 87. In the 1980s, Bob served as deputy director of the Reagan-Bush Presidential Campaign, cochairman of the Reagan inaugural and founded the public aﬀairs ﬁrm Gray & Company headquartered in a converted electricity generating plant in Georgetown appropriately named The Power House. In those days, Bob had it all. He also had a secret known to a relative few: he was gay. Somehow he managed to keep that secret for decades, all the way back to the Eisenhower administration when he served President Dwight Eisenhower as Secretary of the Cabinet — while totally in the closet! How did you ever manage to pull that oﬀ, I asked him, with J. Edgar Hoover himself investigating every gay in town? “You cannot conceive what it was like,” Gray said. “The sweeping totality of the ban (Eisenhower’s infamous Executive Order 10450) to not hire a single homosexual; it was a witch hunt invitation for the entire country. I knew I was diﬀerent, and I knew what I’d do if I were going to be accused. I told myself, ‘I’ll march over to J. Edgar Hoover and tell him all about it. Of course, I didn’t know he was homosexual then.” Gray escaped detection by having zero private life. “If I had been sexually active, I would have been outed. I was an open book working 24-hour days,” he said about his crushing strategy of an era past. “It’s so very hard to appreciate how far we’ve come. The younger generations do not realize this at all. In my hometown of Hastings, Neb., there were two known queers. The two ‘town queers’ is what people said.” Decades later, “Mayor Pete” would come from that American heartland. He understands the journey. But for Bob Gray, the White House Cabinet Room held other ghosts clanking their chains, the memory of what happened to Arthur Vandenberg, Jr. I asked him, “Looking back, do you think it is ironic that you, a closeted gay man, had been chosen by Eisenhower’s chief of staﬀ Sherman Adams to essentially follow another gay man — Arthur Vandenberg, Jr. — who had been ﬁred from the exact same position of Secretary for being an accused homosexual? Vandenberg was the son of the Michigan Senate lion Arthur Vandenberg, Sr. Arthur, Jr., then 35, played an important role helping Ike secure the Republican nomination in 1952. No matter. Hoover investigated Vandenberg, informed the President-elect and had Arthur, Jr. ﬁred. This ruined Arthur Vandenberg, Jr. He left town. When I pressed Gray about Vandenberg, he snapped, “Hey, I don’t want to be known as the ‘gay guy’ who worked at the White House! Being gay is a miniscule part of who I was and who I am! It is NOT my whole being, nor am I a standard bearer,” he looked me hard in the eye. Coming from Hastings, Neb., with his carefully crafted origin story as an Eisenhower and Reagan Republican, this is how he saved himself: It’s just not who I am! Miniscule. Not me. For Buttigieg that battle has been well won, by his personal honesty and all of us American “town queers,” men and women who lifted each other up and educated the country throughout our searing history. This is who he is. But it’s not all he is by a thousand leagues of our experience and his accomplishments. Now let’s get on with Pete Buttigieg’s and President-elect Joe Biden’s leadership rebuilding our infrastructure — and fractured country. LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • DECEMBER 25, 2020 • 11
Lebanese singer on coming out, Middle East politics and activist’s suicide Mashrou’ Leila rocker says career ‘a constant battle for breath’ By MICHAEL K. LAVERS | firstname.lastname@example.org
The out lead singer of the Lebanese rock band Mashrou’ Leila says their career has been “a constant battle for breath.” “Singing is an act of intentional breathing,” Hamed Sinno told the Washington Blade on Dec. 11 during an exclusive interview after they spoke at OutRight Action International’s annual OutSummit that took place virtually this year. “We just haven’t been able to ﬁnd space.” “We’ve had these weird moments where there’s space by exception, where we got to play for a few years in one country before getting banned and then for a few years in another country before getting banned, yadda yadda yadda, but it’s always been a case of exception.” Mashrou’ Leila formed at the American University in Beirut in 2008. Sinno — who came out when they were a student at the university — in 2010 waived a rainbow ﬂag during a concert at Lebanon’s Byblos Festival. Lebanese Christian groups in 2019 successfully pressured festival organizers to cancel a Mashrou’ Leila concert that had been scheduled to take place. The Jordanian government has also prevented Mashrou’ Leila from performing in the country. Egyptian authorities in September 2017 arrested Sara Hegazy, an LGBTQ activist, after she raised a rainbow ﬂag during a Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo. Hegazy was tortured in prison before an Egyptian court in January 2018 ordered her release on bail. “No one who grows up on our side of the world is under the illusion that things will be easy, but that level of injustice is really diﬃcult to imagine,” Sinno told the Blade as they discussed Hegazy. “Obviously when we were on stage we saw the rainbow ﬂags, but really it was a beautiful moment. I don’t think anyone was thinking that what happened would happen.” Sinno noted Mashrou’ Leila publicized Hegazy’s case when she was in custody “because we were getting stories about the kind of abuse she was being subjected to.” “There’s no need to go into details, but it was just brutal and it made it really diﬃcult for me not to focus on her,” said Sinno. Hegazy after her release asked for asylum in Canada. Sinno said he “very brieﬂy” met Hegazy backstage after a Mashrou’ Leila concert in Toronto. Hegazy died by suicide in June. Sinno in a lengthy tribute to her on their Facebook page told their young LGBTQ fans that they are “God’s creation, as much as anyone else is. You are perfect. You are beautiful. You are loved. You deserve better.” Sinno during the interview further reﬂected upon Hegazy’s death. “It’s not about me,” Sinno told the Blade. “What happened to Sara is very much about her.” “I guess part of it is this strange relationship that you imagine having with your audience … where even if these people aren’t part of your life you feel invested in their well-being because you know that they’ve been invested in ours,” they added. “I don’t know how to qualify the nature of that bond, to be honest, but it’s something.” Sinno added “being part of that moment where that ﬂag was raised, understanding the courage that it took for her to do that because of my own history, and being in that moment and sharing in that joy, and then seeing it dissolve and turn into misery over the course of the weeks that followed and for the three months after made it such a huge part of our lives as a band and made it a huge part of everyone’s life in the Middle East.” “The majority of the LGBT community was implicated in that, but then for us the whole experience of that concert in Cairo, it’s sort of been downhill from there,” they said. Sinno spoke with the Blade roughly four months after a massive explosion in Beirut’s port killed more than 200 people and devastated large swaths of the Lebanese capital. The blast nearly destroyed the oﬃces of Helem, the country’s oldest LGBTQ advocacy group, and left several staﬀers injured. OutRight Action International launched a fundraiser to help Helem and members of Lebanon’s LGBTQ community recover from the blast. Sinno in their OutSummit speech said the explosion is the result of “the criminal negligence of the Lebanese state,” but they declined to comment further to the Blade. Sinno did note, however, they continue to support Helem and its work in Lebanon. “Helem was a big part of my coming out journey,” Sinno told the Blade, noting they volunteered at Helem when they were 18. “A lot of what I guess I’ve been trying to do over the last few months is just to amplify their fundraising campaigns through my own social media platforms,” they added. 12 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • DECEMBER 25, 2020
(Photo courtesy of Hamed Sinno/OutRight Action International)
Sinno told the Blade they are “very good friends with everyone at the center, those people in the center when I was 18 and those people that took over afterwards.” Sinno has publicly discussed their struggles with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder and their sobriety. Sinno during their interview with the Blade also spoke about the stigma around mental health in the Middle East. “The stigma around people who are read as presenting masculine sharing their struggles with that is ridiculous and toxic and counterproductive,” they said. “I know that a lot of my issues come from having to deal with shared problems that I know a lot of (my) audience will also have to face, so I think it matters to be transparent about sharing that with those people,” added Sinno. The OutRight summit took place a month after President-elect Biden defeated President Trump in the U.S. election. The coronavirus pandemic and the continued fallout over George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis in May also overshadowed it. “There’s always going to be a lot of reasons to be cynical and my default modus operandi is to just want to be that cynical,” Sinno told the Blade when asked about their experience living in the U.S. right now. “There are also a lot of reasons to be optimistic right now.” “There is a ﬁerceness in people who are much younger than I am that I have never experienced before and that’s just not in the U.S., but back in Lebanon as well and it really is cause for so much optimism,” they added. “Seeing the way people came together after the assassination of George Floyd is not something that we can dismiss. Seeing prison abolition become a conversation that is not deemed too radical by a large segment of a population is not a little feat.” Sinno also said “what we are witnessing in terms of the fruits of the labor of Black activists and Black trans activists who are in the history of this country is incredible.” “We’re seeing it, hopefully, come to fruition,” they said. “If we manage to create more space for that community that inevitably means better things for everyone.” Sinno admitted it is currently “exhausting being here” in the U.S. Sinno also has begun to examine how they have beneﬁtted from systemic oppression. “I’m not Black, I’m an Arab and I have to explore my own complicity in various systems of oppression, anti-Blackness, and examine how I beneﬁt from those systems as well,” they said. “None of it is easy … it’s been an exhausting few months for everyone here, I think, but I’m inclined at this moment that maybe things are exhausting because we’re all growing, at least I really hope that’s the case.”
Queer fans’ love of Wonder Woman is bulletproof Anticipated sequel ‘1984’ bows on Christmas Day
By JOHN PAUL KING
With the release of “Wonder Woman 1984” on Christmas Day, a whole new generation of queer fans will be able to connect to the iconic DC superhero through a campy, nostalgic lens – something countless GenX-ers hold near and dear in their memory, thanks to the ‘70s TV show starring Lynda Carter. The character herself, of course, predates that series by decades. Debuting in DC’s “All Star Comics #8” in 1941, she was quickly embraced by readers, and soon became a star in her own right. In “oﬃcial” mythology, she was sculpted from clay by her mother, Queen Hippolyta of the island nation Themyscira, and given life as an Amazon princess before joining the outside world in its battle against the Axis powers of WWII. Those details have been retooled from time to time over the years, adapting it to the needs of an ever-evolving canon and the changing cultural tides of time; but her essence has remained the same – a strong, conﬁdent, and independent female character who can not only stand as an equal among men but outthink and outperform most of them without even breaking a sweat. As such, she has been embraced as a feminist icon – though in the early years, many (mostly male) readers and critics dismissed her as a representation of the “angry, man-hating lesbian,” an interpretation undoubtedly stoked both by her provenance as a member of an all-female society and a heavy dose of fragile masculine ego. As years have gone on, however, that view has been mostly eclipsed by an acceptance of Wonder Woman as a symbol of feminine empowerment and equality. For women, regardless of sexual orientation, it’s not diﬃcult to understand why; in a pop culture that still features a comparative dearth of such role models, she continues to loom large. What might be less apparent is the reason behind the character’s enduring popularity with gay men – which goes far deeper than the obvious camp associations arising from the ‘70s TV show. Some of that appeal can surely be traced to her real-life origin story. Created by writer and psychologist William Moulton Marston (under the pen name Charles Moulton), she embodied his views around feminism, inﬂuenced by feminist thinkers of his day and his own observations about the impact on women of male-centric assumptions and expectations. More relevant, perhaps, is the inside story of the character’s development, which was inﬂuenced by not only his wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, but by their shared life partner, Olive Byrne; in an arrangement
that would have been seen as beyond shocking during their era, the three of them were a polyamorous triad, and the involvement of the two women on shaping the GAL GADOT’s ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ debuts on Christmas Day. (Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers Studios) character surely went far beyond just a visual design, which was based on features of both. While those undeniably queer roots might link directly to Wonder Woman’s status as an LGBTQ fan favorite, they still don’t explain why gay men ﬁnd the character so compelling – particularly since that history was largely unknown (for reasons that should be obvious) for much of her near-eight-decade existence. Queer critics, theorists and scholars, of course, have provided volumes of their thoughts on the subject; but to get to the heart of the matter, there is no better source than the fans themselves. For example, Jake Charles, a 40-something gay man who proudly sports a Wonder Woman tattoo on his arm and still heads to the bookstore as soon as every new issue of her comic hits the stands. He doesn’t remember, speciﬁcally, how he was introduced to Wonder Woman, but he knows it happened when he was about 5 or 6. “Here was someone who could be a hero,” he tells us, “even though they weren’t butch and manly – and I needed to see that. I couldn’t tell you why, at the time, but I did.” He elaborates, “She’d give you a charming smile, she’d be nurturing to someone she just saved in a way that Batman wouldn’t be. There was something loving and maternal that was just kind of built into her. Even when they’ve decided she needs to be more of a warrior, when they’ve tried to make her tougher and more manly over the years, that maternal side of her just keeps peeping through.” That observation is echoed by another out-and-proud superfan, Keith Lamont, who says, “She was kind, loving and nurturing, traits that many of us didn’t receive as kids. She oﬀered me protection and fantasy – her fabulous beauty and costumes, her invisible jet, Paradise Island.” He goes on to add an important point. “I wanted to BE Wonder Woman, because that meant I could be adored by her love interest, Steve Trevor. She was really the only female superhero at that time, and I think it’s easier for a young gay boy to identify with a woman who is longing for the love of a man – as opposed to liking Superman or Batman, which is a diﬀerent thing.” Possibly the most universal shared experience of gay men with the character is expressed by another gay GenX-er, David Diaz, who tells us, “I loved her as a comic book superhero before the TV show, but once she came to life so spectacularly on the screen I was thoroughly entranced. Lynda Carter was stunningly gorgeous, but she played it straight, and she never traded on her looks or sexuality like so many other female action heroes. And she wasn’t an oﬀshoot of some male hero, like Supergirl or Batgirl. She was her own woman. “And of course, there was her transformation. Every time she spun around to change into Wonder Woman, I would do the same in my family room. I think the idea of her metamorphosis, from someone mundane and looked over to someone powerful and FABULOUS, was incredibly empowering for me. Even though I was years away from any real self-awareness of myself as a queer person, I clearly had some semi-conscious understanding of it, because I dreamed of being able to make that transformation myself.” Even within this sampling of three voices, one can spot the common cord that binds them all together like Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth, as well as the variations of perspective that help to give this Amazon Warrior-turned-All-American-Hero such a profound inﬂuence on so many queer lives. What it comes down to, in the end, might be the reason she’s been embraced by members of almost every community that has been traditionally dismissed and sidelined by a dominant patriarchal culture – she inspires us to rise above the programming and carve our own space in the world. Whether or not the new big screen blockbuster captures the cultural imagination as strongly as the 2017 blockbuster that spawned it remains to be seen – but even if it doesn’t, you can be sure that Wonder Woman will continue to hold a place in the hearts of millions of fans for whom she represents that powerful, primal desire to deﬁne ourselves by our own truth, and not the narratives foisted upon us by those who would keep us in the background. “Wonder Woman 1984,” directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot and Kristen Wiig, premieres simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max on Christmas Day.
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • DECEMBER 25, 2020 • 13
None of us expected 2020 to be the year of a pandemic, but during these times businesses, organizations and people have adapted to the new normal. Our 2021 Best of LGBTQ LA Awards are adapting as well, but we will still celebrate the Los Angeles LGBTQ community. You have nominated and now we have our ďŹ nalists. Finalist Finali voting is open now until January 4th. Our 2021 Best of LGBTQ LA issue will come out on Friday, January 29th.