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04 • SEPTEMBER 07, 2018 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Californians, gay and bi men overrepresented in rising STD rates ‘We are sliding backward,’ says the CDC
By CHRISTOPHER KANE As recently as 10 years ago, the number of reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis had fallen to historic lows. In the past four years, however, data show “steep and sustained increases” in rates for all three diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly 2.3 million patients were diagnosed with chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis just last year in the United States, marking the highest incidence rates of these STDs since a record-breaking number of cases were reported in 2016. Health experts warn that America is now contending with a public health crisis. “We are sliding backward,” said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention in an Aug. 28 press release on preliminary 2017 data presented at the National STD Prevention Conference in Washington, DC. “It is evident the systems that identify, treat, and ultimately prevent STDs are strained to near-breaking point.” STDs are treatable with antibiotics but the emergence of new drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea has challenged lines of defense that have traditionally and reliably curbed the rate of new infections. The number of new gonorrhea cases in men nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017, disproportionately among men who have sex with men (MSM). “We expect gonorrhea will eventually wear down our last highly effective antibiotic, and additional treatment options are urgently needed,” said Gail Bolan, M.D., director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention. What happened? Across the board, rising rates of all three STDs can be attributed to factors that include the corresponding increase in unprotected sex among MSM, eroding public health infrastructures, clinic closures, and—to a limited extent in some groups—improved rates of STD screening. National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD) Executive Director David Harvey said state and local STD clinic budgets have been halved since the early 2000s. “It is time that President Trump and Secretary (Azar) declare STDs in
America a public health crisis,” he said. “What goes along with that is emergency access to public health funding to make a dent in these STD rates and to bring these rates down and to ensure that all Americans get access to the health care that they need.” While their access to sexual health resources has dwindled, research has also found gay and bisexual men are engaging in riskier behaviors, including condomless “bareback” sex—which helps explain the rising incidence rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Experts say several factors are at play. Progress in the treatment of HIV, which is no longer considered a death sentence, may have effectively made unprotected sex “less scary.” And the introduction of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)—approved in 2012 as a once-daily regimen to reduce by as much as 99 percent the risk of contracting HIV—may have had the same effect. Importantly, PrEP remains a valuable tool that can help reduce the number of new HIV infections, despite possible associations between use of the drug and increased risk behaviors/rates of STDs.
While HIV diagnoses in the US have dropped consistently since 2010, 39,782 new cases were reported in 2016, and one of every seven patients is unaware they are HIV positive. Public health officials consider PReP a crucial resource in fighting HIV disease, and expanded access to the drug remains a core focus area in National HIV/ AIDS Strategy. To fight the STD crisis, officials have called for an approach that includes input from local stakeholders. “We don’t want to take a one-size-fits-all approach to STD prevention,” said Michael Fraser, Ph.D., executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO). “The techniques you might use in the MSM community are really different from what you might use with pregnant women…And I think that’s another place where states have a lot of expertise because they know their population and they know some of the stuff that works well in some of those areas.” State-specific data will be made available after the CDC publishes the full surveillance report in September. But public health workers in California have already reported
spikes this year in the number of diagnosed cases of STDs, particularly of syphilis among gay and bisexual men. Overall, according to CDC data from 2016, California has the third-highest number of reported syphilis cases in the country. Compared with the national rate, about 8.7 cases per 100,000 people, California—at 15 cases per 100,000—is more than 72 percent higher. And in San Francisco County, 60.4 cases were diagnosed for every 100,000 people, which exceeds by nearly seven times the national rate. In May 2018, the Riverside County Department of Public Health also reported the number of cases in the Coachella Valley had risen dramatically—mostly in populations of MSM. And Palm Springs exceeded by more than 10 times the national incidence rate. The Riverside Health Department has started hosting community meetings with key stakeholders to address the county’s syphilis outbreak. Senior Public Information Officer Jose Arballo told the Los Angeles Blade the third and fourth meetings are scheduled for Sept. 10 and 11.
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • SEPTEMBER 07, 2018 • 05
Why was California’s ‘conversion therapy’ bill scuttled? Author Evan Low wants a better law By KAREN OCAMB Aug. 31, the end of the California legislative session, started out joyfully for LGBT Californians. Landmark LGBT bills had already been signed or were headed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. California really did feel like a beacon of hope. But suddenly out Assembly member Evan Low pulled his Assembly Bill 2943, legislation to declare so-called “conversion therapy” a fraudulent practice. It was a shock. The bill passed the Senate on Aug. 16 by a vote of 25-11. It had backing from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the California Medical Association, and the Consumer Attorneys of California. AB 2943 seemed set to prohibit the practice of advertising or selling fraudulent claims to change someone’s LGBT sexual orientation or gender identity. Plus, Brown was expected to sign it. In 2012, he told the San Francisco Chronicle after signing then-State Sen. Ted Lieu’s SB 1172: “This bill bans non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.” Low issued a press release that was both emotional and somewhat confusing. “Authoring Assembly Bill 2943 is one of the most personal decisions I have made since taking office,” he said. As a confused young person, he hid his feelings “because I was afraid of what others would think of me. This left me feeling very lost, scared, alone, and even suicidal. I wondered if I could change. Coming out was not an easy experience” but he found support, unlike many others who were subjected to conversion therapy. He authored AB 2943 “to ensure a remedy for those who are deceived by this deceptive practice.” Low tweaked AB 2943 in response to intense opposition as it progressed through the legislature. He also spent the past few months meeting with faith leaders throughout the state. “I was heartened by the conversations,” Low said. “A number of religious leaders denounced conversion therapy and recognized how harmful the practice is while
Assembly member Evan Low pulled his Assembly Bill 2943, legislation to declare so-called “conversion therapy” a fraudulent practice. Photo Courtesy Equality California
acknowledging it has been discredited by the medical and psychological communities. I left those productive conversations feeling hopeful. I believe every person who attended these meetings left with a greater understanding for the underlying reason and intention of this bill to create a loving and inclusive environment for all. However, I believe there is still more to learn.” Low pulled AB 2943 to create a stronger bill produced in a more “inclusive process not hampered by legislative deadlines” that will also serve as a model for the nation. “It is my obligation as a Legislator to make this difficult decision in the interest of finding common ground. The path towards full equality is a long journey, but a journey best
traveled together. I invite you to join me,” Low said. Low’s backers stood behind him, calling him a hero. But others were skeptical. Had he caved to the religious right? Was this really a matter of political expedience to avoid giving anti-LGBT Republicans a talking point before the mid-terms. Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur says no. “Absolutely not,” Zbur told the Los Angeles Blade. “Both chambers already voted on the bill, and we were proud of the bipartisan support we received. We think most voters appreciate that their elected leaders stood up for LGBTQ Californians and to protect consumers from this fraudulent, dangerous practice.”
AB 2943 really was pulled to get more support, he says, including from the surprising new group of faith leaders who opposed the bill—and opposed ‘conversion therapy.’ “This is a really important issue and we’re committed to getting it right,” Zbur says. “We saw an opportunity to work with key stakeholders—including members of the LGBTQ community, medical and mental health professionals, and faith leaders who oppose conversion therapy—to strengthen the legislation, make sure it’s ironclad and continue building consensus around this issue among Californians. Because the state’s existing consumer protection laws already safeguard the LGBTQ community against these dangerous, discredited and fraudulent practices, we felt that it was more important to take additional time and make sure we send the strongest possible policy to the governor than it was to get this done by an arbitrary legislative deadline.” Past religious right opposition to banning “conversion therapy” has used arguments based on religious liberty and parental rights. But this time, groups such as Family Research Council, Focus on the Family and Alliance Defending Freedom, promoted myths and misinformation that the bill “would have labeled the essential Biblical belief of life transformation through Jesus as an unfair and deceptive practice,” as Anne Paulk, Executive Director of Restored Hope Network, put it. Other, more nuanced misinformation had to be cleared up, as well. “For example,” says Zbur, “one nuance that’s important we’re clear on is the distinction between so-called ‘conversion therapy’ or sexual orientation change efforts and traditional, neutral counseling that’s aimed at facilitating a patient’s exploration of their identity and self-acceptance. We need to make sure that we’re clear on where that gradation starts, and that takes time to get right.” The reaction from the religious right was surprising. “We want to thank Assemblyman Low for considering the repercussions of this bill and making the decision to pull it,” Karen England, head of the anti-LGBT Capitol Resource Institute, wrote. “We believe that we can have disagreements on policy and even life decisions, yet do so in a respectful manner, and that is what we have aimed to do throughout this process.” Hold on. This should be an interesting ride.
06 • SEPTEMBER 07, 2018 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the United States Supreme Court, opened with a cacophony of chaos Sept. 4, as demonstrators screamed “We dissent!” in protest and Democratic committee members, led by California Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, angrily moved to adjourn in order to vet thousands of pages of documents released Monday night. Feinstein, a renowned proponent of gun restrictions who discovered the bullet-riddled body of her assassinated gay colleague, San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk more than 40 years ago, is expected to challenge Kavanaugh on his dissent in a 2009 D.C. case in an appeals court where he argued that a ban on semiautomatic rifles should be unconstitutional since they “have not traditionally been banned and are in common use by law-abiding citizens for self-defense in the home, hunting and other lawful uses.” Feinstein is also expected to take up whether Kavanaugh believes Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark abortion rights case, was correctly decided. In her opening statement, Feinstein noted that Roe v Wade was bigger than abortion rights—setting up a fundamental right to privacy. “Roe is one in a series of cases that upheld an individual’s right to decide who to marry—it’s not the government’s right; where to send your children to school—the government can’t get involved; what kind of medical care at the end of life; as well as whether and when to have a family,” she said. — Karen Ocamb
“The allegation is outside the statute of limitations, therefore, an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence is not warranted and prosecution is declined.” - Los Angeles District Attorney’s office on Sept. 4 declining to prosecute actor Kevin Spacey on sexual harassment in October 1992 alleged by unnamed West Hollywood adult gay man.
“[W]hen Donald Trump’s FCC decided to take a wrecking ball to net neutrality protections, we knew that California had to step in to ensure our residents have access to a free and open internet.” – Out State Sen. Scott Wiener on passage of new neutrality bill SB 822, authored with Sen. Kevin de León.
“He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown.”
- White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly on President Donald Trump in respected journalist Bob Woodward’s new book “Fear,” as reported in the Washington Post on Sept. 4, a quote that Kelly subsequently denied saying.
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08 • SEPTEMBER 07, 2018 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Ariz. group advocates on behalf of LGBT immigrants Trans Queer Pueblo says more clients living in fear now By MICHAEL K. LAVERS email@example.com Editor’s note: The Blade last month traveled to Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, California and Arizona to report on the impact that President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy is having on LGBTI migrants. Activists in El Salvador and in the Mexican city of Tijuana said the policy has either prompted migrants to postpone traveling to the U.S. or to remain in their home countries. These activists also told the Blade the policy has prompted an increasing number of LGBTI migrants to seek asylum in Mexico as opposed to the U.S. Activists in Arizona and in California’s Imperial Valley said the policy is also having an adverse impact on LGBTI migrants with whom they work. Dagoberto Bailón of the Phoenix-based Trans Queer Pueblo and other advocates told the Blade that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Border Patrol do not have adequate policies in place for LGBTI migrants who are in their custody. Roxana Hernández, a transgender asylum seeker from Honduras who was HIV positive, died on May 25 while in ICE custody in New Mexico. U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) told the Blade in June after he traveled to South Texas the Trump administration has not implemented any policies that specifically address the needs of LGBTI migrant children who have been separated from their parents. “We know that we are automatically criminalized when we cross the border,” said Karyna Jaramillo, an undocumented trans woman from Mexico who is Trans Queer Pueblo’s Liberation Coordinator. Honduras and El Salvador are among the countries with the world’s highest per capita murder rates. A gay man who is seeking asylum in Mexico told the Blade a group of gang members in San Pedro Sula earlier this year beat him after they repeatedly raped a female friend and killed her in front of him. Activists in Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, California and Arizona all said violence,
Trans Queer Pueblo Liberation Coordinator Karyna Jaramillo speaks with the Blade in Phoenix on July 19. Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers
discrimination and poverty are among the factors that prompt LGBTI migrants to flee their homelands. Advocates in San Pedro Sula and in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador also said their respective countries’ governments need to do more to reduce rates of violence and to expand health care and employment opportunities to members of the LGBTI community. PHOENIX — An Arizona organization that advocates on behalf of undocumented LGBTI immigrants says more of their clients are living in fear because of President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Trans Queer Pueblo, which operates out of a small house in Phoenix’s Garfield neighborhood, runs a monthly clinic that offers health care to undocumented LGBTI migrants. Trans Queer Pueblo Project Coordinator Dagoberto Bailón told the Blade during a July 19 interview that his organization also works to provide undocumented LGBTI immigrants “fair and dignified work” and access to immigration-related services. Trans Queer Pueblo works with other immigrant advocacy groups that visit the Eloy and Florence Detention Centers — two facilities outside of Phoenix that house detained undocumented immigrants — and meet with detainees. Trans Queer Pueblo also remains a vocal critic of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Border Patrol and the U.S. Department
of Homeland Security over the treatment of LGBTI immigrants who are in their custody. Karyna Jaramillo, an undocumented transgender woman from Mexico who is Trans Queer Pueblo’s Liberation Coordinator, is among those who paid tribute to Roxana Hernández, a trans Honduran with HIV who died on May 25 while in ICE custody in New Mexico, during a vigil that took place outside ICE’s offices in downtown Phoenix. Jaramillo said she fled to the U.S. in the late 1980s after police officers in Mexico’s Morelos state raped her. She was detained in the Eloy Detention Center for two weeks in 2015 after she was arrested for DUI. Jaramillo said guards used male pronouns to refer to her and the men with whom she was detained treated her as though she was a “sex object” and a “sick person.” Bailón, who entered the U.S. from Mexico when he was eight, said immigrant detention centers “are not equipped to care for LGBTI people.” He spoke with the Blade as Jaramillo and two of their colleagues, Crystal Zaragoza and Dora Mejia, listened. Zaragoza, the daughter of Mexican migrants who coordinates Trans Queer Pueblo’s Justice in Health Care Program, told the Blade many of the organization’s clients were afraid to seek access to health care and other services after Trump took office. Zaragoza said Trans Queer Pueblo’s health care clinic currently has a threemonth waiting list. “There are many patients who have not seen a doctor in 10 years, 14 years,” she noted. “They are still a little bit afraid.” Trans Queer Pueblo works against the backdrop of Arizona laws that critics contend specifically target immigrants. These include Senate Bill 1070, a law thenGov. Jan Brewer signed in 2010 that allowed police officers to check the immigration status of anyone who they suspected were in the U.S. illegally. English is the official language in Arizona, even though statistics indicate more than a quarter of the state’s residents speak another language at home. Undocumented immigrants are unable to receive Medicare and other public assistance in Arizona. Arizona’s hate crimes law includes sexual orientation, but not gender identity. The lateU.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was among those who opposed a controversial religious freedom bill that Brewer vetoed in 2014.
Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu are among the state’s most vocal opponents of undocumented immigrants. Babeu, who has run for Congress twice, came out as gay in 2012 amid allegations he was in a relationship with an undocumented immigrant. “Arizona is a state where the intent of all of these policies is to see how they work or how those that pass in other states can improve them,” Bailón told the Blade, referring specifically to SB 1070. “Many white people and Republicans — and not only Republicans, but Democrats also — I think are really trying to maintain this status quo that allows them to remain in power and to continue to dictate what happens to communities of color.” Ylenia Aguilar, a member of the Osborn School District Governing Board in Phoenix, largely agreed with Bailón when she spoke with the Blade at a restaurant in downtown Phoenix on July 19. Aguilar, who was born in Mexico’s Veracruz state and learned she was undocumented when she was in high school, was able to normalize her immigration status under the Violence Against Women’s Act because her mother is a survivor of domestic violence. Aguilar, who is now married, became a U.S. citizen in 2016. Aguilar is an organizer for UnidosUS, the country’s largest Latino civil rights organization, and a Human Rights Campaign supporter. She is also an interpreter for undocumented immigrants who go before federal judges in Phoenix. Aguilar, whose paternal grandfather in Mexico was gay, pointed out to the Blade her school board is the only one in Arizona that has publicly criticized the Trump administration over the separation of migrant children from their parents. She also acknowledged immigration was among the issues about which voters were angry going into the 2016 election. “I was conflicted by that,” she said. “I was like, you had the opportunity to vote all your life and you chose not to. There are people crossing the desert, risking their lives. Eighty percent (of women) get raped. Children and women get raped. They die. They die of heat exhaustion. They’re exposing their lives obviously because going through that journey is way better than what they have in their native countries, so I never take that for granted.”
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • SEPTEMBER 07, 2018 • 09
Trump immigration policy sparks concern on U.S.-Mexico border Calif., Baja activists working with LGBT migrants By MICHAEL K. LAVERS firstname.lastname@example.org MEXICALI, Mexico — The temperature was nearly 100 degrees shortly before 1 a.m. on July 22 when a stripper who was wearing a baseball hat, an unbuttoned black shirt and blue jeans stepped onto the stage at Porky’s Divine, a gay club in the Mexican city of Mexicali, and began to dance. A California woman and her bachelorette party, several drag queens and strippers were among the hundreds of people who were at the club that is three blocks from the Mexico-U.S. border. Patrons at Taurinos Bar, a gay bar that is a few blocks south of Porky’s Divine, were playing pool and drinking beers as they listened to songs from Ricky Martin and other Latino pop stars. “[The LGBTI community in Mexicali] is very big,” Axxel Rodríguez, the manager of Taurinos Bar, told the Washington Blade from behind the bar. Mexicali, Tijuana and other Mexican border cities and towns have longstanding economic and cultural ties with neighboring communities and President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy has not severed them. The Imperial Valley LGBT Resource Center in El Centro, Calif., a city in the Imperial Valley that is roughly 12 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, provides services to upwards of 300 people each month. These include support groups for transgender people that are in English and Spanish and the annual Imperial Valley Pride that takes place in El Centro each October. Imperial Valley LGBT Resource Center CEO Rosa Díaz told the Blade on July 20 during an interview at her office that many students with whom her organization works live in Mexicali but go to school in the Imperial Valley. Díaz and Rev. Ron Griffen of the El Centro First United Methodist Church, who works closely with the Imperial Valley LGBT Resource Center, also noted many people who live in Mexico work in California. Migrant workers who are permanent residents of California and can work legally in the U.S. are eligible to receive state Medicaid and other public assistance. “People in Mexicali or Tijuana work in
California and then they go back,” Griffen told the Blade on Monday during a telephone interview from El Centro. Businesses that advertise immigrationrelated services are a common sight throughout the Imperial Valley. Americans who cannot afford prescription drugs, dental or eye care in the U.S. frequently travel to Tijuana, Mexicali and Los Algodones, a small Mexican town on the Colorado River that borders Andrade, Calif., to visit pharmacies, dentists and optometrists. Long lines of traffic were waiting to enter the U.S. at the San Ysidro and Calexico ports of entry throughout the day on July 20 and July 21 respectively. U.S. Border Patrol has set up a permanent checkpoint on the westbound lanes of Interstate 8 near Pine Valley, Calif., which is roughly 45 minutes east of San Diego. Another permanent Border Patrol checkpoint is located on the eastbound lanes of the same interstate outside of Yuma, Ariz. A Border Patrol agent at the Pine Valley checkpoint on July 20 asked this reporter whether he was a U.S. citizen before she allowed him to drive through. Another Border Patrol agent a couple of hours later briefly interrogated this reporter after he took pictures through the border fence at Border Field State Park in Imperial Beach, Calif.
LGBT migrants staying in Mexico Activists on both sides of the border with whom the Blade spoke last month said Trump’s immigration policy that includes the separation of migrant children from their parents has sparked fear among migrants, regardless of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Comunidad Cultural de Tijuana LGBTI, an LGBTI community center in Tijuana that is located a few blocks from the San Ysidro port of entry, and Espacio Migrante, another Tijuana-based organization, work to provide shelter and other resources to LGBTI migrants in the city. The groups also offer assistance to members of the LGBTI community who have been deported from the U.S. The Blade has also spoken with an activist in Mexicali who works with LGBTI migrants. Jorge Luis Villa, coordinator of Espacio Migrante’s Proyecto Diversidad Migrante, said
Axxel Rodríguez manages Taurinos Bar, a gay bar in Mexicali, Mexico, that is less than a mile from the Mexico-U.S. border. Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers
during an interview in downtown Tijuana on July 20 that four trans women between the ages of 16 and 22 and a young gay man were part of a caravan of migrants that arrived in the city in 2017. Villa also pointed out a 300-person caravan of migrants that traveled to Tijuana in late April included 30 people who were LGBTI. Villa said two of the four trans women who arrived in Tijuana in 2017 have asked for asylum in the U.S. He told the Blade the two other trans women — siblings from Honduras — are currently working in Tijuana’s Zona Norte, a neighborhood near the Mexico-U.S. border in which sex workers frequently work. Villa said the gay man who traveled to Tijuana with the four trans women is now in the Mexican state of Veracruz and trying to normalize his immigration status in the country. Rodríguez told the Blade there are trans sex workers in Mexicali who are from Honduras, a Central American country in which violence and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation is commonplace. He also told the Blade there are migrants from Haiti and from “all over” who gather at a park that is four blocks from Taurinos Bar and in other areas of the city’s downtown area. Roxana Hernández, a trans Honduran with HIV who was among the group of 300 migrants who arrived in Tijuana in late April, was taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on May 9 after she asked for asylum at the San Ysidro port of entry. Hernández was held at the Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico before she died at a local hospital on May 25. U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) told the Blade in June after he traveled to South Texas there are no policies in place that
specifically address the needs of LGBTI migrant children who have been separated from their parents. Villa has developed relationships with officials in the state of Baja California’s government who work with migrants. He said the Mexican federal government’s immigration policy “has been created with the LGBT community in mind,” but he conceded “there is much work to be done.” Villa also echoed activists in Mexico City with whom the Blade spoke in July who said more LGBTI migrants have decided to stay in Mexico because of Trump’s immigration policy. Cruz added smugglers, known as “coyotes” in Mexican Spanish, are fighting each other because fewer migrants are entering the U.S. “This man speaks and people stay where they are,” he said, referring to Trump. Griffen’s church provides legal services to low-income immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers through Justice for Our Neighbors, a United Methodist Church ministry. Díaz works with Binational Health Week, a consortium that promotes improved access to health care for disadvantaged Latinos in the U.S. and Canada, and has referred clients to the Mexican consulate in Calexico, a city in the Imperial Valley that is across the U.S.-Mexico border from Mexicali. Griffen told the Blade he has seen “a lot more fearfulness and a lot more uncertainty” since Trump took office. “We have clients that have waited over 20 years to get their court date,” said Griffen. “They’re kind of scared to death that something’s going to go wrong.” Continues at losangelesblade.com
10 • SEPTEMBER 07, 2018 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
‘Zero tolerance’ prompts migrants to seek refuge in Mexico Gay Honduran asylum seeker finds freedom in Mexico City By MICHAEL K. LAVERS email@example.com MEXICO CITY — A 22-year-old gay man from Honduras’ Lempira Department was with a female friend in a park in San Pedro Sula, the country’s second largest city, one night in late February when a group of gang members forced them into a car. The man, who the Washington Blade is not identifying in order to protect his identity and the safety of his family in Honduras, said the gang members took them to a secluded location. He told the Blade they repeatedly raped his friend before killing her in front of him. “I didn’t want to run away from her,” said the man on July 17 during an interview in a Mexico City park. “They killed her and they beat me.” The man fled San Pedro Sula five days after the attack. “I left because of discrimination,” said the man, who is now seeking asylum in Mexico. “I was discriminated against a lot.”
Honduras ‘was hell’ The man with whom the Blade spoke is among an increasing number of LGBTI migrants who are seeking asylum in Mexico based on persecution they suffered in their home countries because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Anti-LGBTI violence is rampant in Honduras, which has one of the world’s highest per capita murder rates. Statistics indicate San Pedro Sula remains one of the most violent cities in the world that is not located in a war zone. Activists in San Pedro Sula and other cities in Central America with whom the Blade has spoken in recent years have said violence and a lack of economic opportunities are the primary reasons that prompt LGBTI people to flee. Hiram Villarreal of Casa de Refugiados, a Mexico City-based group that provides assistance to migrants, regardless of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, echoed them when he spoke with the Blade on July 17. The man from Honduras with whom the Blade spoke receives support from Casa de Refugiados. He spoke with the Blade after
The wall that marks the Mexico-U.S. border from the beach in Tijuana, Mexico, on July 20. Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers
attending a meeting at Casa de Refugiados’ community center in Mexico City. He said his father beat him and kicked him out of his home for being gay. The man then sought refuge in San Pedro Sula where he worked as a merchant. “It was hell for me,” he told the Blade, noting gangs extorted money from him. “I was a merchant. I liked to sell things. They took everything from me. I wasn’t able to sell anything.” He entered Mexico near the city of Tapachula in Chiapas state after he took a bus from San Pedro Sula to Guatemala and crossing the Suchiate River. It took him nearly a month to reach Mexico City. Villarreal said many LGBTI migrants, like the man from Honduras, enter Mexico by crossing the Suchiate River from Guatemala. He told the Blade they often stay in Tapachula or in Tenosique, a town in Tabasco state that is roughly 90 minutes from the Mexico-Guatemala border. Casa de Refugiados has offices in Tapachula and Tenosique and works with the U.N. Refugee Agency. Villarreal said Tapachula and Tenosique are “not safe for the LGBTI community, above all for transgender women.” Tapachula has the highest rate of reported hate crimes of any city in Mexico. Villarreal told the Blade that transgender women are also vulnerable to human trafficking and sexual exploitation in the city. “There are many sex work networks, many sexual exploitation networks and obviously a person’s life is at risk if they refuse to go along with them,” said Villarreal. “It is an issue of survival more than an issue of whether you are a resident or not a resident.” Villarreal also said an increasing number of Venezuelans are now coming to Mexico
to escape their homeland’s deepening economic crisis. “People don’t migrate for one reason,” he told the Blade. “It is a mix of many (reasons.)” A person who is seeking asylum in Mexico must formally request it within 30 days of their arrival in the country. The Mexican Commission for Refugee Aid (COMAR) will then interview the asylum seeker to determine whether their claims of persecution in their countries of origin are founded. Mexican law says COMAR has 45 days to determine whether an asylum seeker has a valid claim. A person who is granted asylum in Mexico is able to receive documents that allow them to work legally, access the country’s public health care system and receive social security benefits. An asylum seeker who speaks Spanish can request Mexican citizenship after three years. Non-Spanish speakers can seek citizenship after five years. “It is a long process,” said the man from Honduras. “The only thing that I can do is be patient.”
‘Sanctuary city’ for immigrants Casa de Refugiados is among the many groups that provides assistance to LGBTI migrants and others who are escaping persecution in their home countries. Mexico City is a “sanctuary city” for migrants and also one of the most LGBTIfriendly cities in Latin America. The Mexico City Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination (COPRED) works to provide assistance to migrants and fines those who discriminate against them. COPRED President Jacqueline L’Hoist Tapia told the Blade on July 16 during an interview at her office that Mexico City’s status as a “sanctuary city” and its pro-LGBTI policies allow LGBTI migrants and asylum seekers to feel welcome. She said a trans migrant has worked at COPRED’s offices for six months. L’Hoist also said COPRED has also begun to work with the Inter-American Development Bank on a project that seeks to find ways to provide additional support to LGBTI migrants. “I love it,” the man from Honduras told the Blade when he talked about Mexico City. Discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity remain commonplace in many
parts of Mexico. The man from Honduras nevertheless said he has “more freedom” in Mexico City than in his homeland. “I can be who I am and nobody is going to abuse me,” he said. He spoke with the Blade against the backdrop of outrage over President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that includes the continued separation of migrant children from their parents. Outgoing Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is among those who have repeatedly criticized the White House’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. L’Hoist described Trump’s policy as “inhuman.” “American residents and citizens know much more about migrants and they know that they are not delinquents, that they are neither rapists nor drug traffickers,” she said, referring to Trump’s previous comments against Mexicans. “They are men and women who are looking for an opportunity in a country that has historically been known around the world as a country of opportunities and of immigrants and one that was built by immigration.” Villarreal agreed, citing the Trump administration’s efforts to ban citizens from five predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. He said one of the impacts of the White House’s immigration policy is that migrants have decided to remain in Mexico as opposed to try to enter the U.S. Activists in the city of Tijuana on the Mexico-U.S. border with whom the Blade spoke on July 20 echoed this account. “Trump has created a policy of being unwelcome,” said Villarreal. “It motivates people to stay and not go north.” The man from Honduras with whom the Blade spoke does not have any relatives who live in the U.S. He nevertheless criticized Trump’s policies. “It is very difficult with children who remain separated from their parents,” he said. “I feel very bad. It is very cruel.” “We are all human beings and each of us did not leave our countries for one reason or another; because of poverty, because of gangs, because of all of it,” added the man. The man said he plans to stay in Mexico City where he would like to finish high school. “I don’t have it (my diploma) because I was afraid because of discrimination in schools on the part of teachers and my classmates,” he said. “I was unable to finish my secondary education.”
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • SEPTEMBER 07, 2018 • 11
Trump sparks fear in El Salvador But LGBT residents continue to flee violence, poverty
transportation. “This is the reality in general,” he said.
By MICHAEL K. LAVERS firstname.lastname@example.org LA UNION, El Salvador — It was nearly 100 degrees in the Salvadoran city of La Unión at 1:15 p.m. on July 14 when Ever Pacheco, director of Colectivo LGBTI Estrellas del Golfo, a local advocacy group, began talking with three of his colleagues in their small office that is located on a quiet residential street. Advertisements about receiving remittances from the U.S. are commonplace throughout the city that is located three hours east of the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador on the Gulf of Fonseca. Pacheco said fear over President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy is increasingly palpable among La Unión’s more than 30,000 residents. “Everyone has delayed their plans to travel (to the U.S.) because they are afraid of being detained,” he told the Washington Blade. El Salvador has one of the world’s highest per capita murder rates because of violence that is frequently associated with MS-13, 18th Street and other street gangs. Pacheco and other advocates with whom the Blade spoke this summer said this violence is among the main reasons that prompt LGBTI Salvadorans to leave the country. Pacheco said six transgender people from La Unión have migrated to the U.S. in recent years “because of the situation in the country with the gangs.” He told the Blade that discrimination and a lack of economic opportunities because of their gender identity also factored into their decisions to leave El Salvador. Karla Guevara, president of Colectivo Alejandría, a San Salvador-based advocacy group, pointed out to the Blade last year that 18 trans women were known to have been killed in El Salvador in 2015. Francela Méndez, a Colectivo Alejandría board member, on May 31, 2015, became one of those statistics when she was murdered at a friend’s home in Sonsonate Department, which is about an hour west of San Salvador. Three trans women were killed in February 2017 in San Luis Talpa, a city that is near El Salvador’s main international airport. Karla Avelar, a prominent activist who the Blade interviewed in San Salvador
ESMULES Executive Director Andrea Ayala in San Salvador, El Salvador, on Sept. 25, 2017. Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers
last September, asked for asylum in Ireland after she and her mother received threats. “People are not going to the U.S. because it’s cold,” said Andrea Ayala, executive director of Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas por la Diversidad, an advocacy group known by the acronym ESMULES, as she spoke with the Blade at a San Salvador coffee shop on July 13. “People are not going (to the U.S.) because it’s so beautiful.” “People migrate because they will die and because they are hungry and because they are in need,” she added. William Hernández, chief executive officer of Asociación Entre Amigos LGBTI de El Salvador, another Salvadoran advocacy group, echoed Ayala. Hernández told the Blade on July 13 during an interview at a San Salvador hotel that is less than a mile from the U.S. Embassy that the violence in El Salvador is “worse” now than it was during the country’s civil war from 1979-1992. He said some gangs target trans people and “obviously gay men.” Hernández also told the Blade the only time residents of one neighborhood that is controlled by two rival gangs can cross the street “without suffering the consequences for the act of crossing the street” is when they need to take public
The Trump administration’s decision earlier this year to end the Temporary Protected Status program for the up to 200,000 Salvadorans who have received temporary residency permits that allow them to stay in the U.S. sparked widespread outrage among immigrant rights advocates. Ayala and Ámbar Alfaro of ASPIDH Arcoiris Trans, a San Salvador-based trans advocacy group, are among those who criticized the White House’s decision. Pacheco’s mother is a TPS recipient who has lived in Houston for 15 years. “The impact that it has had has been very clear,” Pacheco told the Blade, referring to the end of TPS for Salvadorans. The Salvadoran government in January condemned Trump after he reportedly described El Salvador as a “shithole” country. Ayala and Hernández both accused President Salvador Sánchez Cerén of not doing enough to challenge the White House over its immigration policy, which includes the continued separation of migrant children from their families. “It (the Salvadoran government) has a close relationship with the Trump administration, at the very least, for money,” said Pacheco. The U.S. Agency for International Aid on its website notes El Salvador received $74,831,935 in U.S. foreign aid in fiscal year 2016. Remittances, which primarily come from Salvadorans who live in the U.S., account for nearly a fifth of El Salvador’s GDP. Hernández said there is a “lack of leadership” from Sánchez Cerén on a host of issues that include health care, LGBTI rights and abortion. Hernández also noted U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Jean Manes has been “very serious” in criticizing the government’s efforts to reduce gang violence and fight corruption. “The United States government cannot tell us what to do, but it’s also what are we going to do,” said Hernández. “The honorable ambassador has a very rigid position, but also one of a lot of cooperation.”
Assistance for LGBTI migrants Asociación Entre Amigos LGBTI de El Salvador has created an online initiative that
seeks to provide information to migrants about where they can seek assistance as they travel from El Salvador to the U.S.-Mexico border. Hernández nevertheless told the Blade that neither he nor his organization encourages LGBTI Salvadorans to leave the country without documents. “We encourage people not to migrate illegally or undocumented,” he said. “But we know that many times they leave the country with only minutes to spare. So, what we are doing is getting the word out about the safest way to go and how they can receive support along the way.” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen earlier this month met with the foreign ministers of El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico in Guatemala City. She announced the creation of an office within her agency that will advise their governments about the reunification of migrant children who have been separated from their parents. The Trump administration on June 19 withdrew the U.S. from the U.N. Human Rights Council. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein the day before condemned the separation of young migrant children from their parents along the U.S.-Mexico border. Ayala told the Blade the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the U.N. Human Rights Council was an attempt to deflect attention away from its immigration policy. She also spoke directly to Americans who continue to support it. “I invite them to reflect with respect to the pain that this figure is inflicting on not only people from his country,” Ayala told the Blade. She noted the U.S. provided military aid to the Salvadoran government during the civil war. Salvadoran immigrants who fled the war formed MS-13 in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Gang members who have been deported to El Salvador over the last two decades have been linked to murders and other acts of violence in the country. “(The war) left El Salvador in ruins with military dictators, with an untold number of disappeared people,” Ayala told the Blade. “We survived 12 years of armed conflict that was, in part, supported by the United States.” She added Trump continues to use migrants as scapegoats. “Hate is a very strong word,” said Ayala. “This hatred is the distinction of what is different.” Ernesto Valle in San Salvador, El Salvador, contributed to this article.
12 • SEPTEMBER 07, 2018 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Raucous start to Kavanaugh hearings Democrats object to missing docs, but derailing nominee an uphill fight By CHRIS JOHNSON email@example.com Senate Democrats sought to put the brakes on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court this week as they called for a delay in proceedings on a contentious first day of his confirmation hearings, which did not include references to LGBT issues as of Wednesday afternoon. (Visit losangelesblade. com for updated coverage.) The nominee was queried about his views on other matters, such as abortion rights and a potential assault weapons ban. Kavanaugh said he’d respect legal precedent in those areas. Amid accusations President Trump engaged in unlawful conduct, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked Kavanaugh whether he thinks the president of the United States can be forced to comply with a subpoena. Kavanaugh said he couldn’t answer that question because it’s a hypothetical, although he values the precedent set by United States v. Nixon on that issue. The partisan breakdown on the Senate Judiciary Committee was clear as Democrats decried the absence of available material — an estimated 100,000 pages — from when Kavanaugh was staff secretary at the George W. Bush White House and Republicans insisted the nominee’s 12-year record as a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in D.C. offered enough insight about his judicial temperament. For his part, Kavanaugh in his opening statement humbly positioned himself as a family man and a “pro-law” judge who would give both sides a fair shake when cases come before him at the Supreme Court. “If confirmed to the Supreme Court, I would be part of a team of nine committed to deciding cases according to the Constitution and laws of the United States,” Kavanaugh said. “I would always strive to be a team player on the team of nine.” Immediately after Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) gaveled the panel into session, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) called for a
delay in proceedings until the missing information from Kavanaugh’s time at the Bush White House — blocked by the Trump administration — could be made available. “What are we hiding by not letting those documents come up?” Booker said. “This committee is a violation of the values that we as a committee have striven for: Transparency.” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called on Grassley to adjourn the hearing. When the Iowa Republican denied the request, citing a rule requiring a vote on adjournment when one was requested. Grassley said the rule only applies to executive session, which the committee wasn’t in for the Kavanaugh hearings. Blumenthal retorted there was nothing in the rules preventing Grassley from taking a vote on adjournment. Defending the process, Grassley said the committee had enough material to review despite the absence of material from Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary, asserting the committee had five times more information than the last five Supreme Court nominees combined. “That’s no reason to delay the hearing,” Grassley said. “We have received and read every page of Judge Kavanaugh’s extensive public record. This includes 12 years of his judicial service on the most important federal circuit court in the country, where he authored 307 opinions and joined hundreds more amounting to more than 10,000 pages of judicial writings.” LGBT groups have joined Senate Democrats in objecting to the withholding of information on Kavanaugh during his time as staff secretary, questioning the degree to which he was involved at the time in Bush’s push for a U.S. constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage nationwide. The LGBT legal group Lambda Legal announced on Monday it had followed up an unanswered Freedom of Information Act request pending before the White House Office of Management with a federal lawsuit seeking information on Kavanaugh’s involvement with the initiative. Sharon McGowan, chief strategy officer at Lambda Legal, said the missing documents are “a black hole of critical information” and said proceeding with the hearing was irresponsible. “The George W. Bush White House was one of the most homophobic administrations in
Democrats called for a delay on the first day of hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Blade photo by Michael Key
recent history, and Brett Kavanaugh was at the center of the action” McGowan added. The lawsuit is now one of several seeking information on Kavanaugh, which also include a lawsuit filed by “Fix the Court” seeking documents on the nominee’s time at the Bush White House and as assistant to U.S. Special Counsel Kenneth Starr during the Clinton administration. Even before the hearings began, demonstrators — many of whom objected to the perceived threat that Kavanaugh’s confirmation posed to abortion rights — sought to disrupt the proceedings with interruptions. At least one shouted the refrain, “Stop Kavanaugh!” One protester affiliated with “Code Pink” held up a sign reading, “Roe-Yes, Kava-Nope.” The disruptions annoyed Republican members as they attempted to defend the nomination process amid criticism from Democrats — and even Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) expressed irritation at one point — but Grassley continued with the hearing. The committee didn’t proceed with questioning on the first day of hearings, which Grassley said would begin on Tuesday. LGBT issues came up only in the capacity of Senate Democrats warning Kavanaugh’s confirmation would have strong implications on issues such as samesex marriage and protections for LGBT people at the workplace. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) brought up LGBT issues Kavanaugh might be forced to adjudicate as she expressed concerns about the
nominee’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. “We’re talking about the impact that one individual on that court can have, impact on people you’ll never meet and whose names you will never know,” Harris said. “Whether a person can exercise their constitutional right to cast a ballot — that may be decided if Judge Kavanaugh sits on that court — whether a woman with breast cancer can afford health care, or is forced off life-saving treatment, whether a gay or transgender worker is treated with dignity, or may be treated as a second-class citizen, whether a young woman who got pregnant at 15 is forced to give birth, or in desperation go to a back alley for an abortion, whether a president of the United States can be held accountably and whether he’ll be above the law.” Sarah McBride, a transgender activist and spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, was present at the hearing after attending a rally that day against Kavanaugh and called the proceedings a “disgrace.” “The majority party on the Senate Judiciary Committee was clearly intent on rushing through this nomination with little regard for transparency or the Senate’s constitutional responsibility to thoroughly vet nominees,” McBride said. “Despite the concealing of roughly 90 percent of Judge Kavanaugh documents, we know what his rhetoric and record on the bench looks like and we cannot afford for senators to pretend that choice or LGBTQ equality at safe when this nominee was hand-picked by anti-choice, anti-equality organizations.”
14 • SEPTEMBER 07, 2018 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
VOLUME 02 ISSUE 27
Insurgent Dems beat back the trolls Candidates like Abrams, Gillum, O’Rourke offer midterm shakeup
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Damn the torpedoes! Four bells. Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed!” Thus did Union Admiral David Farragut order an attack on the Confederate fleet at Mobile Bay in 1864. As with Farragut, defeating Donald Trump’s tide of racist populism calls not for caution but for boldness and conviction like that of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. Gillum, who last week won the Democratic nomination for governor of Florida, is dismissed as a socialist and a communist by partisans of a president whose lips are firmly planted on the butt of veteran KGB agent Vladimir Putin. Gillum’s issues page states, “Andrew is running for Governor so that Florida can finally confront the challenges we’ve shrunk from over the past 20 years: rebuilding our economy, revitalizing public education, protecting and expanding healthcare access, and addressing our climate change crisis with a clean energy economy.” Somehow Republican nominee Ron DeSantis interprets this as Gillum wanting “to turn Florida into Venezuela,” though it’s DeSantis backer Trump who appears bent on turning
America into a banana republic. DeSantis indignantly denied any racist intent in his “monkey this up” reference to Gillum. That‘s how it works: blow the dogwhistle and play innocent. Two days later, DeSantis had to denounce robocalls by an Idaho-based Neo-Nazi group portraying Gillum with a minstrel voice and jungle noises. Trump’s diehards don’t want honest debate. They prefer to smear and caricature. Gillum sticks to his positive message. He exemplifies the appeal of fresh voices who focus on solutions rather than kowtowing to fear mongers. Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for Georgia governor, is a progressive whose bipartisan efforts in the General Assembly belie Republican labels of her as radical. She can win not just because her proposals like Medicaid expansion and small business investment address popular needs, but because the diversity some decry as a leftist slogan describes a changing electorate. Another impressive Democrat is Beto O’Rourke, challenging Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. His answer to a question about NFL player protests has gone viral. Here is a portion: “The freedoms that we have were purchased not just by those in uniform, and they definitely were. But also by ... peaceful, nonviolent protests, including taking a knee at a football game to point out that Black men, unarmed; Black teenagers, unarmed; and Black children, unarmed, are being killed at a frightening level right now, including by members of law enforcement, without accountability and without justice.... I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up or take a knee for your rights anytime, anywhere, anyplace.” Cruz twisted this into an attack on wounded veterans. If Trump’s desired autocracy takes hold—
and we are on the knife’s edge—the main cause will not be white nationalist stockpiles but a fatal decline in our habits of thought and discourse. In our click wars we are like someone walking down the street who is too fixated on his smartphone to notice the open sewer grate he is approaching. Trump has lately threatened Big Tech companies, not because their platforms help disseminate misinformation but because he is a thin-skinned bully. He doesn’t want Google’s search algorithm to be fair and unbiased, but only to be flattering toward him. Reality is like that sewer grate. If we are distracted by bots and trolls, we are in for a fall. Mockery and epithets have replaced arguments. Solving our shared problems requires connecting across various divides. It requires mutually recognized facts, norms, and authorities. These foundations of our republic are under assault by Trump and his enablers in the GOP. In his latest display of family values, Trump has ramped up passport denials to Americans born in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley; one report blamed President Obama despite his having settled in 2009 an ACLU case begun under George W. Bush. A gunman echoing Trump’s “enemy of the people” mantra threatened to kill Boston Globe employees, yet Trump calls Democrats violent. This madness can only be countered by a voter turnout large enough to overcome voter suppression. Our country is governed by an unrepresentative minority determined to lock in its power. If we don’t rise to this fight like many insurgent Democratic candidates, that may happen. Copyright © 2018 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.
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Cuties is more than just a place where everybody knows your name Struggles in Hollywood as a groundbreaking LGBTQ café makes appeals By JOHN PAUL KING
Cuties is located at 710 N Heliotrope Dr. in Los Angeles. Photo by Leslie Foster for Cuties
Cuties Coffee Bar is in trouble. Opened last summer and funded by an Indiegogo campaign, the East Hollywood café is an extension of “Queers, Coffee, and Donuts,” a monthly pop-up which provided a safe space and gathering point for members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, gender-queer, non-binary and trans communities. Founded by Virginia Bauman and Iris Bainum-Houle, its mission has been to build “a queer-centered community space.” Bauman, who is a transgender woman, and Bainum-Houle, who identifies as queerfemme and gender-fluid, wanted to create a coffee bar that was geared towards LGBTQ+ people and their allies. Instead of catering to the tropes of LA’s trendy scenesters, they set out to make a location where members of the queer community could feel welcome
and comfortable. The project, which they conceived in 2015, became a priority for them after the Pulse Nightclub shootings and the election of Donald Trump — along with his barely-concealed anti-queer agenda — made it clear that there was a dire need of safe gathering places, especially for the most marginalized members of the community. For its first year, Cuties operated as an anomaly in the LA queer scene, a rare and much-needed social environment that wasn’t a bar or a nightclub — something very important for the sizable sector of the LGBTQ+ population who are underage or don’t want to be surrounded by alcohol. They have hosted community events, support groups, workshops, film screenings; they have provided a meeting location for activist
groups with no space of their own; they have kept their supporters and their clientele informed and in the loop with a regular newsletter which has become a highlight of the week for its many subscribers; and they have done it all while providing gourmetquality coffee and donuts, along with other high-grade beverage and food items. They even offer a “community tab” which allows customers to “pay it forward” by buying an extra cup for future guests — providing a tremendous service to those café patrons who face financial hardship. Like most new small businesses, though, the café has had a hard time meeting its financial needs. Even after reducing hours and labor, and trying to curtail waste, its revenue is failing to cover operational costs.
1 6 • V O LU M E 0 2 • I S S U E 2 7 • A M E R I C A’ S LG B TQ N E W S S O U R C E • LO S A N G E L E S B L A D E . C O M • S E P T E M B E R 0 7 2 0 1 8
Cuties Coffee owners Virginia Bauman and Iris Bainum-Houle. Photo by Leslie Foster for Cuties
Its founders have been subsidizing it to keep it in business, but, according to Bauman in a piece she published on Medium, “we are reaching the end of our ability to do so.” In an effort to save this important queer communal space, Bauman and Bainum-Houle have returned to the crowdfunding model that allowed them to open it in the first place. Cuties has launched a campaign on Patreon to provide ongoing support for the café. Their goal is $12,000 a month. At the time of this writing, the counter on their donation page read $4,167, so they still have a way to go. They’re not asking for money to help them maintain a profitable coffee shop, either. The funding they seek is necessary in order for them to offer the kinds of communitysupportive services that have been the real reason for Cuties all along. In the latest edition of the Cuties newsletter, Bainum-Houle reached out to readers, expressing the importance the café has had for her personally. “Creating Cuties is the most empowering and meaningful experience of my life,” she wrote. “[It] has connected me deeply to a community I’ve been isolated from for most of my adulthood and for that I will always be grateful. It has also given me the opportunity to connect others. On the hard days (and there are many) the ability to bring the community together is what keeps me going.”
She went on to describe the effect the café has on the community. “I love seeing your faces light up when you come into the shop for the first time. I adore seeing you connecting in the cafe over coffee. I delight in providing you with moments of whimsy and softness in a world not built for either.” She also stressed the importance of providing a haven for the queer community. “LGBTQIA+ folks deserve a safer space that is all ages and open every day of the week. We deserve to make a living wage at a place of work where our orientation, gender and pronouns are respected. There is power in getting people in a room together, together in our common difference to build community. I want that work to continue.” She concluded with a heartfelt plea for help that is also a rallying cry for the community and its supporters. “I want Cuties to exist. I want this to succeed. I hope you want that, too. Thank you for getting us this far… The future is unclear but what is certain is our community’s resilience, dedication and effervescence. Let’s show our community and the folks cheering us on both near and far that this can work. Thank you for going on this journey with me and I hope it can continue… If you are not yet a Cuties’ patron now is the time!” For their Patreon contribution, Bauman and Bainum-Houle have suggested a donation of $10 per month, but welcome any amount from
A M E R I C A’ S
$2-$250. There are rewards for different tiers of support, too. $10, for instance, gets you a free cup of coffee every month; for $35, you also get “the queerest mug on earth,” and there are more deluxe premiums all the way up to the $250 level, which includes all the other rewards plus a donut-making class with Virginia Bauman herself! And starting at the $5 level, you can rest assured that part of your donation will go into Cuties’ “Extra Love” bucket, which allows financially-challenged individuals access to community events taking place in the café. There are other ways you can help. Sharing the Patreon link on social media, newsletters, event pages, even via text and email is helpful — as Bainum-Houle puts it, “Call your family members who say they have ‘nothing against gay people.” You can also reach out to press and media on the café’s behalf and write reviews on Yelp! or Google; and of course you can also visit the shop and participate in its community events. Whatever means you choose to show your support, you need to do it soon. According to Bauman’s Medium post, they were hoping to meet their goals by the end of August or “we will likely have to close our doors.” Bainum-Houle’s newsletter entry is more optimistic, promising a “ramped up” schedule of events this fall for one “final push,” so it may not be too late.
QUEERY 20 QUESTIONS FOR ISABELLA CORTEZ
18 • SEPTEMEBER 07, 2018 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Isabella Cortez Portrait by Breanna Josephine
By JOHN PAUL KING
Isabella Cortez, 32, says when she was a small child growing up near San Salvador she loved to sleep “because gender was never an issue when I dreamed.” “The nightmares happened to the boy when I woke up,” she says. Isabella, who was born Ezekiel, a name she hasn’t used to refer to herself since she was 11 years old, says her father, Ramon, beat her daily, calling her “maricon” and pummeling her with his fist until she could not see, even threatening at one point to set her on fire. “He poured gasoline on me and told me to light a match.” Ramon even had his friends’ kids try to beat her up and “make Ezekiel a man.” Of course the entire town joined in and in no time Isabella had no safe place and no friends anywhere. But then fate intervened. “When I was 14, one day my father took me to have sex with a woman to ‘break me of a homosexual demon.’” What his father didn’t realize was that the woman he had hired was transgender. “Angelita turned out to be a trans woman and she instantly took me under her wing. We told my father that ‘everything went very well.’” “But my father figured it out and had Angelita beaten. He actually ordered her killed,” Isabella says. “She nearly died when some townspeople jumped her and stabbed her. The police would not help her, even the hospital refused to help her much.” Isabella, who was also brutalized, tried to help Angelita but it was nearly impossible. Isabella says she lived in terror with daily beatings, threats, and being spit at in the streets where ever she went. “I was determined to help Angelita and when she was finally well enough we decided we just had to get away. We decided to try to go to the states.” With $1,000 between them, Isabella says, she and Angelita stole a car and drove it to the border where they met other LGBT people. “It was like fate brought us together. I guess it had.” Over the next six months, Isabella and Angelita, along with “about a dozen other LGBT people” made their way north. It wasn’t all bad. People on that journey became family and life-long best friends, the closest of any I have ever known in my life.” By April 1990 the group had survived every indignity to make it to Mexicali where they crossed the border in the middle of the night. Angelita was captured and returned to El Salvador where she was murdered five years later, says Isabella. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her.” “The rest scattered to the winds and for the next six months I didn’t have a dime, living on the streets of San Diego. It was only when someone drove me into Los Angeles that things began to change. I lived on a sidewalk downtown with a few other trans people and we fought like hell to survive. I was ‘homeless’ until I was 26 years old.” Isabella says she escorted to make a living and that’s how she met the man of her dreams, “an honest and loving man who has transformed my life and who says I am the best thing that ever happened to him.” When asked what she hopes everyone will take from her story she said, “I hope everyone will realize when they see a homeless trans person they will think about how difficult their journey probably has been.” Isabella is still not a U.S. citizen and has never registered in any way; she asked the Los Angeles Blade not to use her face in a photo. “I know it sounds ridiculous, but I am afraid even to get a marriage license, that if I try they will send me back. I’m too happy here to even try,” she said. “In America I am a woman when I am awake. I am very happy.”
queery ISABELLA CORTEZ How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell? I have never been anyone but who I am and nothing has been easy.
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do? Nothing at all.
Who’s your LGBT hero? I am. We all are.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world? I believe in the lord Jesus Christ.
What’s Los Angeles’ best nightspot, past or present? I love my friends who live on Cole Avenue at Santa Monica Blvd. Describe your dream wedding. I had it. A beach wedding at sunset in Venice. What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about? Homelessness. What historical outcome would you change? I grew up during the war in El Salvador. It was brutal. What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime? Meeting Selena. On what do you insist? RESPECT. What was your last Facebook post or Tweet? I don’t have papers so I don’t post. If your life were a book, what would the title be? “The adventures of Isabella and Angelita”
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders? Get over your fear of helping undocumented people like me. What would you walk across hot coals for? I walked across hot coals to live in this country, literally. What LGBT stereotype annoys you most? That transgender people want surgery. What’s your favorite LGBT movie? “En Algún Lugar” What’s the most o verrated social custom? Trying not to make a noise when you fart. Sorry but that’s just dumb. What trophy or prize do you most covet? A U.S. Passport. One day. What do you wish you’d known at 18? That I would not always live on the streets. Why Los Angeles? I breathe it and I am me here.
THE VIEW IS JUST THE BEGINNING
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20 • SEPTEMBER 07, 2018 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Aretha and McCain get a lot of R-E-S-P-E-C-T Barbra sends ﬂowers and lightning bolts, Trump golfs By BILLY MASTERS
This New York Daily News cover sums up Labor Day weekend 2018. Image by Daily News
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“When I saw Ariana Grande on the program, I thought that was something at Taco Bell!” - Bishop Charles H. Ellis, who presided over Aretha Franklin’s funeral, shares his thoughts on Miss Grande after her performance. What does it say about me that I had the same thought? Meet you at the Taco Bell, Bishop. ATTENTION ALL MEDIA OUTLETS: Can you please get your shit together? I hate to start oﬀ like this, but it’s really getting out of control. First, Fox News used a photo of Patti LaBelle in its tribute to Aretha Franklin. And then, the BBC used a photo of Jenifer Lewis! Y’all, Jenifer’s like a generation younger than Aretha. Come on - all black people do not look alike. Next you’ll say all gay people look alike - and I swear to you THAT’S not true. The confusion stemmed from Jenifer’s performance at the Aretha Tribute Concert that took place on the eve of the funeral. Accompanied by the prodigious Marc Shaiman, Lewis sang a self-penned composition, “Thank You, Aretha.” Standing under the illuminated “Aretha” sign, the Brits simply got confused — as they are wont to do. But there was no confusing Jen’s sentiment, as you’ll see on BillyMasters.com. Prior to Jenifer, people watching the concert at home saw Patti LaBelle sing a teary rendition of “You Are My Friend.” Except, she didn’t. Sure, she sang it — at a concert at the Dell Music Center in Philadelphia a week earlier. They simply ﬁlmed it and rolled it into the tribute concert, and most of the home viewers were none the wiser. That’s what I’m here for. Then there was the funeral. Thank God I was watching from home. I was able to put it on pause, go out to eat, watch a little more, take a nap, etc. Poor Bill Clinton looked like he was gonna pass out. Many people commented on Jesse Jackson’s distressed appearance. In case you don’t know, late last year he announced that he’s been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. So, I attribute it to that. Some of the people who didn’t come, sent ﬂowers. Folks like Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Sir Elton John, Mariah Carey, and Diana Ross all sent enormous tributes. Me-oh-my-oh - that was SOME hat on Miss Cicely Tyson! For much of the service, I wasn’t even sure there was someone under it! But, God love her, the 91-year-old legend launched into a freewheeling adaptation of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “When Malindy Sings”, re-christened, “When Aretha Sings.” Then there was Chaka Khan, who I thought was wearing a choir robe...or two. In case you were wondering, her fan had dual purpose - it not only kept her cool, but also had the lyrics to “Going Up Yonder” printed on the back. A very tasteful and appropriate Jennifer Hudson paid tribute to Aretha with “Amazing Grace,” further cementing her position as Franklin’s appointed portrayer for the proposed biopic. Fantasia kicked oﬀ her shoes and stalked the stage with “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Stevie Wonder was the penultimate act, with “As,” backed by Shirley Murdock, Dottie Peoples, Angie Stone, and, wait, once again, Miss Jenifer Lewis wailing “Always.” After that, Jennifer Holliday ended the ceremony with “Climbing Higher Mountains” as the casket was taken out of the church. I believe the whole “show” (for lack of a better term) was stolen by Gladys Knight, who sang rings around everyone with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (you can never hear that enough times). But she inadvertently caused quite a bit of gossip. On her way into the funeral, she revealed that she met with Aretha about a year earlier. Gladys said, “At that time, we shared the fact that we had the same disease.” So, it wasn’t a stretch that most people thought Knight revealed she too has pancreatic cancer (she does look quite thin). In a statement she released later that day, she said, “I’d like to clarify that Aretha and I discussed both of us having cancer, mine was stage 1 breast cancer and hers was pancreatic. Due to early detection, I am cancer-free and grateful for that.” She also chastised the media for spending time gossiping about her - especially on a day where we should be “celebrating Aretha’s life and massive contributions to our world.” The next day, we had John McCain’s funeral - more notable for people who were not there (or purposely banned) than for those who were. I will say it did my heart good to see Laura Bush hand Michelle Obama a piece of candy - talk about reaching across the aisle! However, one gesture left me a bit cold. Is it acceptable in the Episcopal tradition for a reverend to take a selﬁe? First, do reverends typically carry their cell phone during a service, let alone a funeral? Secondly, isn’t it at least a little rude to ask George W. for a selﬁe when Obama is standing right next to you? Reminds me of when I ran into Joanna Cassidy at the Emmys, but I’ll save that for another time. Continues at losangelesblade.com
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • SEPTEMBER 07, 2018 • 21
In “Nathaniel Quinn, Filmmaker,” a new play in the middle of a short debut run at Highways Performance Space (1651 18th St. Santa Monica), writer Hunter Lee Hughes seems to have few qualms about revealing its autobiographical nature. Not only does Hughes take on the title role himself, he peppers details of his own life —from the name of his own website, Fatelink (an open source production company he founded in 2004), to the use of an actual portrait of himself done by iconic LA artist Don Bachardy — liberally throughout the show. It’s also hard not to notice that the play’s eponymous indie ﬁlmmaker has turned to small local theater productions to give expression to his artistic vision; Hughes, who wrote and directed the independent art ﬁlm, “Guys Reading Poems,” is now producing — well, this play. This inclusion of self into the material doubtless streams from a desire to bring personal experience into his writing. It can’t be about ego, because the character of Nathaniel Quinn is something of a mess. It’s not entirely his own fault. Following the critical success of his debut ﬁlm — a brainy, black-and-white war movie titled “Reconnaissance” — its star, publicly his “best friend” but really the love of his life — fell into drug addiction and died of an overdose. The young ﬁlmmaker has never recovered from the emotional fallout from this tragedy, and has turned his back on his promising career — though, in an irony to which he is far from unaware, it didn’t stop him from marrying a wealthy Hollywood money man and enjoying the material comforts of success as a kept man. Now, a decade later, Quinn is emotionally and creatively stagnant; though his husband pressures him to return to making movies, he continues to explore his own unresolved issues of unrequited longing through obscure performance pieces. The latest of these triggers a recurring vision in his imagination of two ancient monks enmeshed in a forbidden love. It also connects him with Jason, a handsomebut-straight actor who may or may not be using him to advance his own career path. This premise sets up an exploration of multiple themes which ripple throughout the play. Contemplations about reincarnation, the toxicity of the mainstream entertainment industry, the specter of what it means to be gay in Hollywood — all of these and more bubble up repeatedly from the undercurrents which drive the plot. Holding it all together like a spoke in a wheel is the question of how to channel such contemplations through the imagination and express them — not just in art, but in life. It’s a lot to tackle in a two-hour play — but Hughes does so creatively. As the program notes proclaim, “Sometimes it takes a piece of (meta) theater to understand the soul of a ﬁlmmaker,” which sets the audience up from the beginning to extrapolate between levels as they follow this imaginative journey, which may be largely set in present-day Los Angeles but begins by an ancient river bank in some unknown Asian country and ends on a rickety Ferris wheel at a haunted (metaphorically, anyway) amusement park. Along the way, we are guided by the ghost of Quinn’s deceased star and lover, who oﬀers his own bemused insights into the story, even as he lingers in a lonely afterlife without seeming to quite understand his own story. It’s not all deep thoughts and heavy messages; indeed, much of what makes it work as well as it does has to do with its own wry sense of humor. Hughes takes plenty of opportunities to poke fun at egos, conceits, illusions, clichés. But he does so with empathy, and avoids passing judgment upon any of his characters, no matter how nefarious or misguided they may seem. The play does have rickety spots. There are some implausible contrivances, but these mostly serve as fodder for self-referential humor, rather than as weaknesses within the script. More troublesome are some redundancies that might be trimmed, which would allow the actors freedom to take their time with some of the pithier dialogue; there are moments that feel rushed, particularly within the frequent interludes by the show’s dead narrator (Blake Sheldon). These are quibbles, though; Hughes has created an imaginative play with a structure that reﬂects its themes while also helping to present them. He also deserves kudos for the “myth-building” he has used to bring the world of Nathaniel Quinn to life. This is aided, in part, by creative elements incorporated into the experience itself — posters and clips from Quinn’s ﬁctional ﬁlm, for instance, are on display in the lobby of the theatre — but much of it lies within the script itself. It’s an impressive touch, bringing a sense of completeness, as if the characters and their histories really exist. Continues at losangelesblade.com
Hunter Lee Hughes’ staging explores the ways of Hollywood Poking fun at egos, conceits, illusions, clichés By JOHN PAUL KING
Blake Sheldon and Hunter Lee Hughes co-star in ‘Nathaniel Quinn, Filmmaker.’ Photo by Leo Garcia
22 • SEPTEMBER 07, 2018 • LOSANGELESBLADE.COM
Happy New Year: JQ International hosts its 15th annual LGBTQ & Ally Rosh Hashanah Shabbat. See Sep. 14. Photo courtesy JQ International
SATURDAY, SEPT. 8
2018 HERO Awards is today from 3-5 p.m. at the private home of Erika and Spike Feresten (address available upon registration). Join Young Stonewall Democrats, widely regarded as the vanguard of the youth LGBT political movement and empowering progressive young LGBT people, immigrants, women, people of color and our allies throughout Los Angeles County, as they present the 2018 HERO Awards. This year’s honorees: Andra Hoffman, Los Angeles Community College District; Congresswoman Maxine Waters; Dr. Paul Song and Lisa Song; and LA City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell. For ticket information visit stonewallyoungdems.org. Somos Estrellas Inaugural Gala is tonight from 6-9:30 p.m. at Odd Fellows of San Fernando (401 N Hagar St., San Fernando) Somos Familia Valle presents its first Anniversary Gala,”Somos Estrellas,” highlighting the work of Somos Familia Valle. SFV is a community-based organization created and led by local, low-income, firstgeneration college students who are LGBTQ+ people of color and immigrants and is dedicated to supporting, empowering, training and mobilizing trans and queer people, immigrants, families and allies for racial, gender, environmental and economic justice. The group this year brings together local businesses, civic and community leaders from the San Fernando Valley to celebrate the strength, heart and soul of the 818 community. Tickets are $15 and are available online at somosfamiliavalle.org/gala. Filmmakers’ Gallery: GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS is tonight from 6-9:30 p.m. at the Palm Springs Cultural Center/Camelot Theatre (2300 East Baristo Rd., Palm Springs) The Filmmakers Gallery Presents: The 15th Anniversary of “GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS” at the Palm Springs Cultural Center with Director, Richard Day and special guest Jack Plotnick. High-camp in the high-desert, Palm Springs style. Tickets cost up to $15 and are available on eventbrite.com or at the door.
MONDAY, SEPT. 10
IMAGINE: High Holy Days 5779 with Congregation Kol Ami is tonight from 8-10 p.m. at Harmony Gold Theater (7655 W
Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles). Join the Kol Ami community for the High Holy Days and bring in the new year. This year services will be conducting High Holy Day Services at Harmony Gold Theater, a historic and spacious theater that has more than enough seating for hundreds of congregants, families and friends, and there is ample parking in the immediate vicinity. We look forward to worshiping together in this beautiful and historic venue. Eat the apple dipped in honey and enjoy the love and abundance of your life, reflect on the year past and the year ahead. For more information, visit kol-ami.org.
TUESDAY, SEPT. 11
Performance Anxiety Comedy Show tonight from 8-10 p.m. at the Pleasure Chest, Los Angeles (7733 Santa Monica Blvd. Los Angeles). Get your laughs and lube at the same place. Performance Anxiety, a comedy night hosted by Eli Olsberg, is the best seven bucks you will ever spend. You will enjoy free beer, 15% off your toys and sexy, live performances by some of the best comics working today. Demetri Martin, Taylor Tomlinson, Ron Lynch, Jenny Yang, Joel Kim Booster, Heather Turman, Dustin Nickerson among them. First come, first served. For details, visit thepleasurechest.com.
THURSDAY, SEPT. 13
Come OUT Against Cancer is tonight from 6-8 p.m. at the Abbey Food & Bar (692 N. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles). The American Cancer Society hopes you will join them at the iconic Abbey Food & Bar in WeHo for the second annual Come OUT Against Cancer. It’s a now annual event that helps increase cancer risk awareness and prevention in the LGBTQIA community. Celebrate the courageous in your life — those fighting, caregivers and survivors during this special evening. $10 suggested donation at door. Your contribution will help save lives with all proceeds helping the American Cancer Society support families, increase research and fight cancer from every angle. For more information, search “Come OUT Against Cancer” on Eventbrite. Queer Trans Youth Support Group is today from 5-6:30 p.m. at Mi Centro (553 S. Clarence St. Los Angeles). East LA’s LGBTQ community center has organized a
groundbreaking social group for queer youth, a special group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer+ and ally youth who are 17 years old and younger. Los Angeles Blade Visibility Award honoree, Eddie Martinez and his team are at it again, providing an invaluable service to an increasing visible LGBTQ community near Downtown Los Angeles. Free. For more details, visit lalgbtcenter.org. Queer Positivity Panel is tonight from 7-10 p.m. at Los Angeles LGBT Center (1125 North McCadden Place). Discuss queer positivity and how to make it a stronger characteristic of the LGBTQ community and the community as a whole. Moderator Amir Yassai will negotiate the various issues plaguing the community, from body shaming, transphobia and drag queens. No topic is off limits. Panelists Ruba Wilson, Mayhem Miller and Gia Gunn from “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Assaad Yacoub, director, Cherry Pop, drag personality, Allusia, queer activist and “Prince Charming” Robert Sepulveda Jr., trans model and queer personality Arisce Wanzer, YouTube stars/Gaymer Guys Chad Kolozsi and Evan Michael Lee promise a rollicking event. The event is free. For details, visit lalgbtcenter.org.
FRIDAY, SEPT 14
LGBTQ+ & Ally Rosh Hashanah Shabbat is tonight from 7:30-10:30 p.m. at JQ International (667 S June St., Los Angeles).This year’s event will take place in a beautiful private residence in Hancock Park. Join other LGBTQ+ and ally Jews for a traditional Shabbat dinner, with a delicious catered kosher meal, wine, music, apples and honey, and a special surprise announcement from JQ to you. JQ International welcomes all individuals regardless of religious affiliation, gender identity, sexual orientation or expression. Everyone is welcome. General advance single tickets are $30. General advance pair of tickets are $50. Available online or at the door. For more information, visit jqinternational.org.
E-mail calendar items to firstname.lastname@example.org two weeks prior to your event. Space is limited so priority is given to LGBT-specific events or those with LGBT participants. Recurring events must be re-submitted each time.
LOSANGELESBLADE.COM • SEPTEMBER 07, 2018 • 23
Brooding ‘Lizzie’ puts lesbian romance at the heart of a famous murder When she saw what she had done… By JOHN PAUL KING
Kristen Stewart and Chloë Sevigny co-star in ‘Lizzie.’ Photo courtesy Saban Films and Roadside Attractions
Even though the crime of which she was accused took place over a century ago, the name Lizzie Borden still looms large in the American consciousness. For those unfamiliar with the details, her father, Andrew, and stepmother, Abby, were brutally murdered with an axe in their Fall River, Mass. house on the morning of August 4, 1892. At the time of the killings, both Lizzie and the household maid, Bridget “Maggie” Sullivan, were at home, but claimed to have seen or heard nothing out of the ordinary. Eventually, Lizzie was arrested and charged with the murders. After a sensational trial that dominated news headlines across America, she was found innocent by the jury — but she has been widely assumed to have been guilty ever since. Of the countless fictional renderings that have been inspired by this legendary true-crime story, the latest is the simply-titled film, “Lizzie” — a dream project of its star, Chloë Sevigny. In development for years, it was slated to be realized as an HBO miniseries until a rival production on the same subject caused the network to pull the plug. Undeterred, Sevigny and her writer, Brian Kass, bought back the rights and proceeded with production of a feature film instead. Directed by Craig William Macneill, it stars Sevigny as Lizzie — presented here as a strong-willed and independent woman who chafes at the repression she must endure in the home of her wealthy, meanspirited father and his cold, callous second wife. When the Bordens hire pretty young Bridget (Kristen Stewart) as their new maid, the lonely Lizzie senses a kindred spirit; turning to each other for kindness and comfort, the two women begin a clandestine friendship which deepens into something more — even as the oppressive environment of the household pushes Lizzie ever closer to a breaking point. Lizzie Borden’s sexuality has long been the subject of speculation — she never married, after all, despite the wealth she inherited from her father — but Kass’ screenplay is the first time this possibility has been explored within the context of her alleged crime. It’s a potent addition to the story; but though it plays a part in the way “Lizzie” changes our perspective on these brutal murders, it doesn’t provide an explanation for them. The movie does not take the sensationalist stance of suggesting that a lesbian affair was the real motive behind this notorious crime; the explanation it offers comes from a feminist sensibility that runs much deeper than sexual orientation. Lizzie and Bridget — along with all the other women of the late nineteenth-century world in which they live — are denied agency over their own lives by the whims of a male-centric social structure that deems them as lesser beings, or worse, as possessions. In this light, the murder of the elder Bordens looks like an act of revolution, a blow for freedom struck by a de-facto slave with nothing left to lose and everything to gain. Kass’ screenplay is able to bring these ideas to the forefront without forcing them, partly because historical record is on his side in reinforcing the idea of masculine autocracy in the Borden household. Andrew Borden is well-documented to have been a spiteful and parsimonious dictator who ruled his little empire with an iron fist and a stubborn will. Still, it’s not so much that “Lizzie” presents him as a tyrant begging for a fall — although it does — as that it places its emphasis on the slow, cumulative effect of his bullying upon his daughter. We bear witness to a proverbial “death by a thousand cuts” as a smart and self-aware woman, burning for autonomy, is subjected to one humiliation after another, and this centuryold piece of history is reframed as an apt and timely fable for the #TimesUp era. Though its socio-political observations are key to the film, it never becomes heavy-handed in their delivery. Thanks to Macneill’s layered, understated direction, they are woven into a moody, intelligent, observational drama that manages to engage us despite our knowledge of how it will end. Indeed, there are times when we almost forget the murder which is at the center of the story, even though the movie — which begins with its aftermath and then flashes both backwards and forwards before using its depiction as a climax — is structured around it. Perhaps most importantly, it never loses sight of the fact that it is, in essence, a horror film; the austere, eerie household feels pregnant with menace, and little details throughout hint at the gory event we know is coming. When it finally does, it is recreated in a bold and breathtaking sequence that is both horrific and beautiful, faithful to facts and yet completely surprising. As for the performances, you couldn’t ask for a better avatar for the patriarchy than Jamey Sheridan, whose masterful portrayal of Andrew oozes with sanctimonious superiority; likewise, Fiona Shaw’s Abby is the very picture of smug, self-serving complicity. Out actor Denis O’Hare is memorable as Lizzie’s Uncle John, here seen as a conniving parasite bent on securing the Borden fortune for himself; tantalizing allusions to his character as being a “pervert” are left unexplored, but his oily persona is sufficiently suggestive to support any number of imagined possibilities. The movie belongs, however, to Sevigny and Stewart. Individually, they are both superb. Sevigny gives us a Lizzie we can see without reservation as a protagonist, and out actress Stewart shows strength within the timidity mandated by Bridget’s social station. Together, they contrast and complement each other’s qualities, slow-building the relationship that grows between them into a tender and convincing love affair that makes us hope for a happy ending we know will not come — no small feat in a story as famous as this one. Significantly, they do it without defining either character in terms of their sexuality. They — and the film — deserve credit for giving us a model of inclusion done right. Continues at losangelesblade.com
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